[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/05/art.getty.obama.jpg caption="President Obama will sign an executive order that will strengthen the constitutional and legal grounding of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama will make changes Thursday to President Bush's controversial Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, partly to ensure religious groups that receive government money do not discriminate in hiring, administration officials said.
Obama will sign an executive order that will strengthen the constitutional and legal grounding of the Office, two senior administration officials told CNN.
Critics of the agency, which steers government money to religious charities that perform social services, say that under the Bush Administration faith groups were allowed to take religion into account when hiring.
On contentious issues like hiring, Obama found that one of the problems with the previous Initiative was that tough questions were decided without appropriate consideration, data, and input from different sides, the officials said. There were ideological decisions, instead of decisions based in fact, they added.
Obama officials say his executive order will make religious groups demonstrate to the government that their hiring is legal and non-discriminatory.
"We think this is a key step forward. It doesn't resolve all issues at the outset, but it does provide a mechanism to address difficult legal issues moving forward," they said.
The president is naming Josh DuBois, who ran religious outreach during Obama's campaign, to run the revamped Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
He will also create a new advisory council, whose 25 members will include Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judiasm; Judith Vredenburgh,the CEO of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America; Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Rev. Joel Hunter, the senior pastor of Northland Church, a megachurch in Orlando, Florida, and the Rev. Frank Page, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Office of Faith-Based Intiatives is a programming and policy arm of the federal government. It is the primary mechanism for federal agencies to connect with local neighborhood and faith-based groups to deliver social services. Centers within executive agencies run programs like job training for low-income individuals at the Department of Labor; ex-offender re-entry at the Department of Justice and international HIV/AIDS efforts at USAID.
–CNN Correspondents Suzanne Malveaux and Jessica Yellin contributed to