One of the complaints of civil liberties groups about the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP) advisory council is its lack of transparency. Yesterday, the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD) met with the Office's director, Joshua DuBois. Ron Millar, acting director of the Secular Coalition for America, was also present. According to Millar, CARD raised concerns regarding both faith-based hiring discrimination and transparency.

CARD was told the advisory council is created under and subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires that meetings of such committees be open to the public. This was the first I had heard about FACA mandates being applied to the OFBNP, so I followed up and discovered that committees formed under the act are required to adopt and file charters with the General Services Administration.

The OFBNP advisory council's recently filed charter lays out its mandate as follows: "To identify best practices and successful modes of delivering services; evaluate the need for improvements in the implementation and coordination of public policies relating to faith-based and other neighborhood organizations; and make recommendations for changes in policies, programs, and practices."

That's pretty broad -- broad enough, I suppose, to include topics such as reducing the need for abortion, promoting responsible fatherhood initiatives, fostering interfaith dialogue, or to add any other policy areas that the OFBNP decides to include.

The charter also requires that, in accordance with FACA, the Council "hold open meetings," unless the director determines that the meeting should be closed in accordance with provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, and that "interested persons may attend meetings, appear before the Council, or file comments with the Council." The council's subcommittees are also subject to the provisions of FACA -- which appears to mean that their meetings are open to the public as well.

The charter also states that the council's records "shall be available for public inspection and copying, subject to the Freedom of Information Act."

The OFBNP itself, though, appears not to be subject to FOIA. According to the White House, entities like the OFBNP that are within the Domestic Policy Council are exempt from FOIA.

--Sarah Posner

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