Government and Regulations

Major PHS Cuts Proposed in Reorg Plan


The Trump administration seeks to reorganize several federal agencies as part of a sweeping reform proposal, issued June 21. Although the plans hits many parts of federal health care, the most dramatic change is a proposed reduction of the Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps from more than 6,000 officers to no more than 4,500.

“Government in the 21st century is fundamentally a services business, and modern information technology should be at the heart of the U.S. government service delivery model,” according to the administration’s reform proposal. “And yet, today’s Executive branch is still aligned to the stove-piped organizational constructs of the 20th century, which in many cases have grown inefficient and out of date. Consequently, the public and our workforce are frustrated with government’s ability to deliver its mission in an effective, efficient, and secure way.”

A picture of the front of the White House. tupungato/Thinkstock

If implemented, changes to the Commissioned Corp would be dramatic. The plan directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “civilianize officers who do not provide critical public health services” and to ensure that the Corps is deployed at least once every 3 years to positions that either are difficult to fill or respond to a public health emergency. Instead the Commissioned Corps would be replaced with a Reserve Corps. Similar to the armed forces reserves, this group “would consist of Government employees and private citizens who agree to be deployed and serve in times of national need.” In addition, the plan would change the way federal agencies pay for the retirement benefits of Commissioned Corps members, potentially eliminating one of the fiscal benefits that agencies receive for hiring Commissioned Corps members.

In addition, under the proposal, nutrition assistance programs currently run out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would move to the Department of Health and Human Services, which would be rebranded the Department of Health and Public Welfare.

Moving these programs “would allow for better and easier coordination across programs that serve similar populations, ensuring consistent policies and a single point of administration for the major public assistance programs,” according to the proposal. “This single point of administration would lead to reduced duplication in state reporting requirements and other administrative burdens, and a more streamlined process for issuing guidance, writing regulations, and approving waivers.”

Food oversight functions would move from the Food and Drug Administration to the USDA; FDA would be rebranded the Federal Drug Administration and focus on drugs, devices, biologics, tobacco, dietary supplements, and cosmetics.

The administration also proposed to create a Council on Public Assistance comprised of “all federal agencies that administer public benefits, with a statutory authority to set cross-cutting program policies, including uniform work requirements.”

Other functions of the council would include approving service plans and waivers by states under Welfare-to-Work projects; resolving disputes when multiple agencies disagree on a particular policy; and recommending policy changes to eliminate barriers at the federal, state, and local level to getting welfare beneficiaries to work.

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