Update from the CDC/ATSDR Director’s Commissioned Corps Policy Advisory Committee (October 4, 2006)
The Secretary announced some initial decisions about Corps transformation in January, including that workgroups were being formed. The workgroups met in January and February and delivered their reports in March. There have been a couple of meetings with the agency heads or representatives to review the workgroup reports and get concurrence. Most of the issues have been agreed upon, and we are awaiting final approval by the Secretary. Until that time, the details of the reports will not be released. As soon as that occurs, we will convene an all-hands meeting to describe the workgroup decisions and next steps. In the meantime, detailed timelines have been developed for the plans and several new staff have been hired at Commissioned Corps headquarters to implement them.
Manual circular 377, which outlines the readiness requirements, expired on June 30, 2006, but has had several short-term extensions. We were given drafts of a set of completely new policies to review and have provided comments. Our understanding is that they are still working on revising those proposed policies based on the comments. In the meantime, we have been told that a slightly revised version of 377 will be released shortly to cover the next several months. It is our understanding that some of our recommendations for changes of the current tuberculin skin test and immunization requirements will be incorporated. In addition, the policy will account for the expected delay in availability of influenza vaccination this year.
Officers should note that Commissioned Corps leadership has clearly stated that failure to achieve and maintain readiness can result in referral to the retention board. These boards may convene as early as January 2007. We fully understand that many officers have temporary problems with readiness that can be quickly resolved and we have been assured that these sorts of problems will not result in immediate referral to the retention board. However, there are still officers who have done little or no work to achieve readiness and they are in jeopardy of being the first group for referral. All officers should be reminded that the readiness status is updated only periodically (e.g., every two weeks) and there can be significant delays in the Medical Affairs Branch certifying medical documentation and sending it to OFRD. Therefore, officers should be mindful of the expiration dates of their various readiness requirements and allot sufficient time for those delays.
As announced back in April, the Officer of Force Readiness and Deployment (OFRD) has been establishing the new deployment teams. There are four types of teams: Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), Incident Response Coordination Team (IRCT – formerly SERT), Mental Health Teams (MHT), and Applied Pubic Health Teams (APHT). RDFs will provide primary medical care for shelter populations, including special needs. They are not emergency medicine teams. MHTs will conduct community based and individual mental health activities. IRCTs will be responsible for coordinating all Departmental activities in the field. APHTs are multi-disciplinary and have been described as a health department in a box. Membership on the teams will generally be for three years.
All of the team leadership positions have been filled. In addition, the majority of teams are now fully staffed. However, RDFs are still in need of clinically competent nurses and other healthcare providers. To assist in obtaining enough clinically competent officers to be on the RDFs, OFRD has recently opened the eligibility to any active duty officer regardless of their location. Previously, an officer had to be within 200 miles of the RDF home base (i.e., Washington/Baltimore, Georgia/North Carolina, Arizona/New Mexico, and Texas/Oklahoma areas).
So far, the teams have been used in three deployments. Two of the deployments were by APHT sub-units to assist the state of Louisiana. The other deployment involved one of the RDF and ICRT teams in preparation for the potential impact of Hurricane Ernesto (fortunately the storm did not have any major impact on the United States).
The 2006 COERs were released on October 3. Officers only have until October 16 to complete their portion and send it on to their supervisor. Attachment I and II will include two new questions: does the officer have a performance plan; and if yes, was it used in the narrative of the COER. These questions will not be scored. A contractor has been identified to review the COER and provide recommendations for revamping the system. Officers should note that many actions (e.g., promotion or awards) will require having no missing COERs for the past 5 years. If you have a missing COER during that time period, you should work with OCCP to get that resolved immediately. The Chief Professional Officers have developed some guidance for officers which was forwarded to you by OCCP.
We have recently received clarification that federal torts coverage does not apply to work done overseas. We are seeking further clarification about whether this applies to clinical work done in Department of Defense facilities or embassy clinics. CAPT Brent Burkholder is the lead for issues relating to officers assigned overseas. He will keep officers informed as we learn more. In addition, he is working with the organizers of the CDC-wide global field staff meeting in January to arrange for Basic Life Support to be offered for officers traveling in for the meeting.