NATIONAL HARBOR, MD—As the Military Health System is undergoing significant structural and eventually manpower changes, ADM Brett P. Giroir, MD, the Assistant Secretary for Health in the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Food and Drug Administration acting commissioner, had one message: Come and join us. “Recruitment and retention are our top priorities,” ADM Giroir told the largely military health care provider audience, “If there is downsizing of any of the military health [system], we want you. If you touch health in any way…we need great people who are committed to our national goals in the Commissioned Corps.”
Not long ago, the US Public Health Service (PHS) was facing its own pressures to either reduce its workforce or to eliminate the PHS Commissioned Corps altogether. “The Corps’ mission assignments and functions have not evolved in step with the public health needs of the nation,” argued the fiscal year 2019 Office of Management and Budget, Budget of The U.S. Government . “It is time for that to change. HHS is committed to providing the best public health services and emergency response at the lowest cost and is undertaking a comprehensive look at how the Corps is structured.”
In response, PHS has undertaken a top-to-bottom audit and reevaluation of its mission, ADM Giroir noted, with the goal of defining the role for the PHS in the 21st century and beyond. As a result, the PHS recently completed the development of a modernization plan. The plan entails specifically managing the force to meet mission requirements, developing and training a Ready Reserve force, enhancing training and professional development for the Commissioned Corps, and updating and improving PHS systems and processes.
As a part of the modernization plan, ADM Giroir outlined projected growth plans for the Corps: an increase from the 6,400 regular Corps officers in FY 2018 to 7,725 by FY 2024 with an additional 2,500 Ready Reserve officers, to “minimally meet the mission requirements as we understand it,” ADM Giroir noted.
According to ADM Giroir, the goals for the Ready Reserve are an essential component in the PHS mission to meet any regional, national, or global public health emergency. The Ready Reserve would be a well-trained public health force that would be ready to deploy quickly. Whereas in the past, PHS officer deployments and specialties were tailored to the needs of the agencies in which they are embedded, this force would be more aligned with the needs for a rapid public health emergency response and would include specialized providers. In that context health care providers with military rapid response training would be highly valued.
Although the PHS has outlined its modernization plan, no budget has been allocated for it. Moreover, as ADM Giroir, has noted, PHS still remains dependent on the budgets of the embedding agencies to pay for the Commissioned Corps. “Right now our force structure is really determined by what federal agencies need,” he noted.
Currently, there are bills pending in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to codify the modernization effort.