Public Health at the Federal Level

Most in our nation are familiar with public health on a state, county, and local level. However the federal government plays a very significant role in public health too which goes far beyond just funding.

There are 12 federal public health organizations in the nation, each charged with providing a unique role in the public health of our country at a national level. The United States Public Health Service (PHS) is the primary federal agency devoted to public health. It is ultimately under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The PHS has an oversight role with the following federal agencies:

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) – This office was created in response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. It is tasked with preparing for, preventing, and responding to the adverse health effects caused by emergencies and disasters.

Office of Global Affairs (OGA) – This office functions as the diplomatic wing of the US DHHS. It’s important to foster and maintain relationships with foreign public health and government officials when working on issues like pandemics, global health risks, and global responses to crises.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) – The focus of this agency is on gathering data and other evidence with the aim of improving the quality of healthcare and making it safer, more equitable, more affordable, and more accessible.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) – This agency is tasked with educating the public about hazardous substances in the environment. This includes waste sites, screening for localized contaminants, health surveillance, and responding to emergencies caused by the unanticipated release of hazardous substances.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – This agency functions as the nation’s first line of defense for the security of its overall health. It takes a multifaceted approach to protecting the country from internal and foreign threats to our health through health safety and health security.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – This agency ensures the safety, security, and efficacy of medical devices, drugs for humans and animals, and biological products. It also ensures the safety of the nation’s food supply, cosmetic products, and materials that emit radiation.

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) – This agency manages more than 90 programs, with primary focuses on health equity and improvement. It does this by ensuring access to innovative programs, a skilled health workforce, and quality services.

Indian Health Service (IHS) – The goal of this agency is to raise the health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest levels. This agency stems from federal agreements with tribal governments to provide the delivery of comprehensive health services.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) – This agency’s primary goals are to lengthen life, enhance health, reduce disability, and reduce illnesses. It does this by studying human growth and development, the biological effects of environmental contaminants, disease epidemiology, and directing public health studies and education programs.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – Established in 1992, this is the organization that leads national public health efforts to advance behavioral health. It focuses particularly on reducing substance abuse and minimizing the impact of mental health.

Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC) – The PHSCC is one of the seven uniformed federal agencies, sharing company with the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and NOAA’s Office Corps. The PHSCC is led by the Surgeon General and tasked with providing rapid response to public health needs, leadership, and the advancement of public health science.