Department of Justice Announces Joint Final Rule Regarding Equal Treatment of Faith-Based Organizations in Department-Supported Social Service Programs

The Department of Justice announced a joint final rule with eight other Agencies — the Agency for International Development and the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Veterans Affairs — to implement President Trump’s Executive Order No. 13831, on the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative (May 3, 2018).  This rule ensures that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally in DOJ-supported programs, and it clarifies that religious organizations do not lose their legal protections and rights just because they participate in federal programs and activities. 

“The freedom to exercise religious beliefs is a cornerstone of our Constitution and the federal government must uphold this right for all Americans.  The Constitution and Federal statutes require all agencies of government to treat religious groups fairly,” said Attorney General William P. Barr.  “This joint final rule is another in a long line of steps this Administration has taken to restore and protect religious liberty and ensure equal treatment for people of faith.”  

This final rule ensures equal treatment for faith-based organizations, consistent with the Constitution and other federal law.  It removes requirements in prior regulations that placed unequal burdens on religious organizations, cast unwarranted suspicion on them, and were in tension with their religious liberty rights.  This final rule also clarifies that religious organizations do not lose various legal protections because they participate in federal programs and activities, such as the rights to accommodations and conscience protections under the First Amendment, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and other federal laws. 

This final rule preserves most of the existing regulations governing participation of religious organizations in DOJ’s financial assistance programs, including provisions barring providers from discriminating against beneficiaries based on religion and requiring that any religious activities by the organization be separated in time or location from any services directly funded with federal money.  

The final rule was drafted in response to Executive Order 13831, issued in May 2018.  The nine Agencies worked collaboratively to draft notices of proposed rulemaking that were published or delivered to Congress in January 2020.  These Agencies then received over 95,000 public comments from a range of interested parties, including Members of Congress; state and local governments, agencies, and officials; faith-based services providers and umbrella organizations; advocacy organizations; and individuals.  The Agencies considered those comments, modified their regulations to address concerns raised in the comments, and drafted responses included in the final rule. 

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The Secretary of State should ensure that State uses data and evidence to justify its current proposal, or any new proposal, to establish the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies to enable the bureau to effectively set priorities and allocate resources to achieve its goals. While State disagreed with GAO's characterization of its use of data and evidence to develop its proposal for CSET, it agreed that reviewing such information to evaluate program effectiveness can be useful. State commented that it has provided GAO with appropriate material on its decision to establish CSET and has not experienced challenges in coordinating cyberspace security policy across the department while the CSET proposal has been in discussion. State concluded that this provides assurance that CSET will allow the new bureau to effectively set priorities and allocate resources. The documents State provided in response to GAO's requests, including a set of briefing slides and an action memo to the Secretary, did not sufficiently demonstrate that it used data and evidence in developing its proposal. In addition, State's comment that it has not experienced coordination challenges in recent years is not sufficient evidence that the potential for such challenges does not exist. Without evidence to support the creation of the new bureau, State lacks needed assurance that the bureau will effectively set priorities and allocate appropriate resources to achieve its intended goals. For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130 or MazanecB@gao.gov, or Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov.
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    Presented is GAO's Performance and Accountability Report for fiscal year 2020. In the spirit of the Government Performance and Results Act, this annual report informs the Congress and the American people about what we have achieved on their behalf. The financial information and the data measuring GAO's performance contained in this report are complete and reliable. This report describes GAO's performance measures, results, and accountability processes for fiscal year 2020. In assessing our performance, we compared actual results against targets and goals that were set in our annual performance plan and performance budget and were developed to help carry out our strategic plan. An overview of our annual measures and targets for 2020 is available here, along with links to a complete set of our strategic planning and performance and accountability reports. This report includes A Fiscal Year 2020 Performance and Financial Snapshot for the American Taxpayer, an introduction, four parts, and supplementary appendixes as follows: A Fiscal Year 2020 Performance and Financial Snapshot for the American Taxpayer This section provides an overview of GAO's performance and financial information for fiscal year 2020 and outlines GAO's near-term and future work priorities. Introduction This section includes the letter from the Comptroller General and a statement attesting to the completeness and reliability of the performance and financial data in this report and the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. This section also includes a summary discussion of our mission, strategic planning process, and organizational structure, strategies we use to achieve our goals, and process for assessing our performance. Management's Discussion and Analysis This section discusses our agency-wide performance results and use of resources in fiscal year 2020. It also includes, among other things, information on our internal controls and the management challenges and external factors that affect our performance. Performance Information This section includes details on our performance results by strategic goal in fiscal year 2020 and the targets we are aiming for in fiscal year 2021. Financial Information This section includes details on our finances in fiscal year 2020, including a letter from our Chief Financial Officer, audited financial statements and notes, and the reports from our external auditor and Audit Advisory Committee. This section also includes an explanation of the information each of our financial statements conveys. Inspector General's View of GAO's Management Challenges This section includes our Inspector General's perspective on our agency's management challenges. Appendixes This section provides the report's abbreviations and describes how we ensure the completeness and reliability of the data for each of our performance measures. For more information, contact Timothy Bowling (202) 512-6100 or bowlingt@gao.gov.
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