WASHINGTON — David Kuo, an evangelical Christian conservative and former top official of President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative who attracted wide attention when he accused the administration of failing to live up to the values it espoused, died Friday in Charlotte, N.C. He was 44.
He had brain cancer that was diagnosed a decade ago, his wife, Kimberly, said.
The arc of Mr. Kuo’s life and career had taken him from liberal to conservative, from hard-edged Republican activism in the 1990s to disillusionment with the idea that politics could serve as an extension of his faith.
After leaving his post as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2003, Mr. Kuo became an open critic of that operation. He faulted the administration for failing to supply the office with anywhere near the $8 billion in federal spending that Bush, as a candidate, said would finance ‘‘armies of compassion.’’
Mr. Kuo’s criticism echoed that of the first director of the office, John DiIulio, who resigned in August 2001, only seven months after it was formed.
A comprehensive 2009 report on the faith-based office conducted by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, at the State University of New York at Albany, said the office helped change ‘‘the ‘culture of resistance’ that had existed in the federal government toward faith-based organizations’ participation in social service contracts.’’ But the report concurred with Mr. Kuo that hundreds of millions of dollars was spent, far less than promised.
The faith-based office, which Bush created with his first executive order as president, had been a controversial initiative. It allowed overtly religious groups to receive federal funding for providing social services. Critics said it blurred the line between church and state.
Mr. Kuo said the Bush White House lacked a genuine commitment to Bush’s presidential campaign promise of ‘‘compassionate conservatism.’’ Bush reaped political benefits — a more sympathetic image and a mobilized base of evangelicals — through the faith-based initiative. But Mr. Kuo said the White House failed to help religious organizations receive the taxpayer money they needed to serve ‘‘the least, the last, and the lost.’’
John David Kuo was born in New York. His father, John T. Kuo, was an immigrant from Hangzhou, China, and is a professor emeritus of geophysics at Columbia University. His mother, the former Marilyn Dunlap, is a homemaker originally from Phoenix.
An evangelical Christian since high school, the younger Kuo considered himself a liberal when he was attending college in the late 1980s at Tufts University in Massachusetts. He interned for Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
After his girlfriend became pregnant and the couple opted for an abortion, Mr. Kuo said, his remorse led him to become an antiabortion activist. He was also drawn to the political energy of the religious right in those years.
He moved to Washington after his college graduation in 1990, and he briefly worked for the CIA. Then he became a speechwriter and policy adviser for prominent conservatives, including then Senator John Ashcroft, televangelist Pat Robertson, and former education secretary William Bennett.
Mr. Kuo had left the political world by the late 1990s, and he became a public relations executive at Value America, a Charlottesville, Va.,-based online retailer of computers, office products and consumer goods. Not long afterward, he became a domestic policy aide at the Bush White House.
Mr. Kuo learned that he had a brain tumor on Palm Sunday 2003, after he suffered a seizure while driving in Washington. He wrote in ‘‘Tempting Faith’’ that his wife ‘‘grabbed the wheel and somehow managed to jerk the SUV, which was going eighty miles an hour, to the left so we wouldn’t crash through the rock barriers and into the creek below.’’
Later that year, Mr. Kuo left the White House — in part because of his health and in part because he believed his work had become, as he described in his memoir, ‘‘a sad charade, to provide political cover to a White House that needed compassion and religion as political tools.’’