As we all know, Secretary Tommy Thompson announced the vision/plan for the transformation the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps on July 3, 2003. The intention of the transformation is to enable the Corps to respond more quickly and effectively to public health emergencies and to better address pressing public health needs, such as service in underserved and remote assignments. The need for transformation is further supported with the recent updating of the National Response Plan (NRP) and the new Catastrophic Incident Annex to the NRP. In both plans the Department of Health and Human Services is designated as the Primary Agency for public health and medical services. Using worse case planning analysis, a catastrophic event could require the immediate response of over 20,000 public health experts and direct care providers. Therefore, the Department needs to develop the professional human resources and infrastructure (e.g., force management) to rapidly identify and respond with the appropriate public health expertise (e.g., clinical and non-clinical; active duty Commissioned Corps, Inactive Reserve Corps, and Civil Servants). Clearly the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps would be a vital and significant component of this response capability.
However, our national emergency readiness planning should not adversely impact the Department’s mission of meeting the unmet public health needs of our nation. This requires that the transformation of the Corps to support the various day-to-day public health activities of the agencies.
To assist the Department in developing the necessary options and plans to transform the Corps, the Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS) and the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) have undertaken several activities. Last year, the Lewin Group was retained to assist in reviewing the current status and evaluate the current force management operations of the Commissioned Corps. Their activities have entailed the formation of focus groups that represented not only the officers of the Corps (junior, senior, and varying categories) but the agencies and other stakeholders (e.g., potential recruits and public health leadership outside of the Department). The focus group discussions and the Lewin Group’s own analysis are focusing on a broad range of Commissioned Corps operational issues (e.g., force management, recruiting, training).
Recently, each Departmental agency, the US Coast Guard, and Bureau of Prisons has designated one of their senior officers to represent them on a Transformation Workgroup. With the assistance of the Lewin Group, a Resource Group of senior and junior officers that worked with the Lewin Group, and senior officers from OPHS and OSG; the Transformation Workgroup will develop various policy options to be considered by the Secretary to advance the transformation of the Corps. The options will cover a range of mechanisms, including several possible approaches that will produce improvements of the Corps’ force management capability, training and career development of officers, and recruitment of new officers.
Prior to submission to the Secretary, the various options developed by the Transformation Workgroup will be presented to the agency heads for their review and comment. The vetted policy options are expected to be submitted to the Secretary this fall for his consideration and action.
It should be noted that the options being developed for the Secretary will be fairly broad in scope (e.g., the extent of force management centralization, options for billet and position management, etc.). The Secretary will decide which options are to be undertaken.
One of the first activities after the work of the current workgroup is finished, and agency heads have commented and the Secretary has made decisions will be the briefing of all Commission Corps stakeholders. These briefings will assist in identifying the various approaches that could be used to implement the Secretary’s selected options.
After the broad policy options have been selected, assistance from not only the agencies but a broader range of the Commissioned Corps officers and other stakeholders will be needed to develop the specific policies and procedures that will result in the implementation steps for the transformation of the Corps (i.e., the nuts and bolts). These activities will continue to be coordinated by the Assistant Secretary for Health and the Surgeon General.
It is anticipated that additional implementation workgroups will be needed and that the agencies, the various Corps advisory groups (e.g., the Professional Advisory Committees (PACs), the Chief Professional Officers, and agency representatives will be asked to provide vital input, review, and guidance as we move forward. Clearly this will be a fairly long-term process and officers can, at a minimum, participate in this process by being active members of their PACs either on a subcommittee or the full PAC.
For the last 120 years, our Commissioned Officers have met extraordinary challenges in protection and advancing the health of the American people. The goal of Transformation is to strengthen our capabilities to respond to the challenges emerging today and for the future. As the Secretary has said, “One Department, One Corps.