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Understanding the Role of the Office of Public Health and Science

The Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS) is a subdivision of the Office of the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Under the leadership of the Assistant Secretary for Health, the OPHS manages several different public health offices, sub-agencies, councils, and advisory committees that operate under the auspices of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the:

  • National Vaccine Program Office
  • Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
  • Office of HIV/AIDS Policy
  • Office for Human Research Protections
  • Office of Minority Health
  • Office of Population Affairs
  • Office of Research Integrity
  • Office of Women's Health
  • President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
  • President's Council on Bioethics
  • Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability
  • Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee. 

In addition, through the Office of the United States Surgeon General, the OPHS directs the activities of the Public Health Commissioned Corps, a uniformed service of the United States government, and the Medical Reserve Corps. The OPHS also serves as the umbrella agency for the nation's Regional Health Administrators, whose offices function as local arms of the HHS and OPHS throughout the country. The OPHS has a distinctly interdisciplinary focus; its primary role is to coordinate resources from throughout HHS in the fields of public health and science and provide leadership in HHS initiatives and interventions in these areas. The head of the OPHS, the Assistant Secretary for Health, serves as a chief advisor to the Secretary of HHS with respect to matters of public health and scientific research relating to health matters.

Inside the Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS):

The Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS) supervises Regional Health Administrators in ten regions throughout the United States. In addition, the OPHS leads several initiatives related to using science and scientific research to improve and protect public health. These initiatives include an action plan to prevent health care-associated infections, the development of a toolkit for the improvement of influenza vaccination rates among health care personnel, the direction of an inter-agency work group to improve the health of individuals suffering from multiple chronic conditions, and participation in the Public Health System, Finance, and Quality Program.   

  • Office of Public Health and Science: The homepage of OPHS summarizes the duties of the office and offers descriptions of and links to the offices, committees and councils that it directs under the leadership of the Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH). It also features links to statements by the ASH, news items and press releases related to the work of the OPHS, and a video message from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius encouraging professionals to enlist in the Medical Reserve Corps, an auxiliary branch of the Public Health Commissioned Corps, whose activities are directed by the OPHS.
  • Assistant Secretary for Health: This page on the HHS website provides a biography of Dr. Howard K. Koh, the sitting Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH). The ASH heads the OPHS and serves as the primary advisor to the Secretary of HHS on matters of public health and science. The duties of the ASH include not only the direction of the OPHS, but also the supervision of the Office of the Surgeon General and the Public Health Commissioned Corps, one of seven branches of uniformed personnel that serve the federal government. The ASH is nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 
  • OPHS Final Action Plan to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections: One of the primary goals of the OPHS is the prevention and reduction of health care-related infections, which are responsible for as many as 100,000 preventable deaths in the United States each year. The OPHS released its final action plan for this initiative in June 2009.
  • Health Care Personnel Initiative to Improve Influenza Vaccination and Toolkit: Another chief goal of the OPHS is the improvement of the influenza vaccination rate among health care personnel in order to decrease the likelihood that they will contract influenza, decrease the likelihood that patients will contract influenza from their caregivers, and encourage health care professionals to serve as positive examples of the benefits of influenza vaccination to the public that they serve.
  • Interagency Workgroup on Multiple Chronic Conditions: In 2008, the OPHS convened an inter-agency work group within HHS to address the goal of improving the health and quality of life of individuals suffering simultaneously from two or more chronic conditions. The work group is addressing methods of assisting health care providers in their efforts to treat individuals with multiple chronic conditions, helping individuals with multiple chronic conditions care for themselves more efficiently, implementing changes in the health care system so as to better address the needs of individuals with multiple chronic conditions, and devising research objectives for the development of tools and methodologies to achieve these goals. 
  • Public Health System, Finance, and Quality Program: The OPHS is a participant in the Public Health System, Finance, and Quality Program (PHSFQ), which serves as a network of federal agencies partnered together to address issues of policy, financial sustainability, and overall quality in the public health system.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): The Parent Agency of the Office of Public Health and Science:

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is a cabinet-level department and executive agency of the federal government. It is charged with promoting, improving, and protecting the health of the American public and with providing services essential to the overall well-being of the citizenry, particularly the needy, the disabled, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations. The Office of Public Health and Science is the primary subdivision of the department, but HHS is also responsible for overseeing the:

  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • Administration on Aging (AOA)
  • Agency for Health care Research and Quality (AHRQ)
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
  • Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Indian Health Service (HIS)

Look to the following for more information on the department of Health and Human Services:

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The homepage of the HHS website provides links to news items and press releases from the department and its subdivisions, as well as links to the individual offices and subdivisions that make up its family of federal agencies. The site also offers a full video and audio library relating to the work and topic areas of the HHS for members of the public who want more information.
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services: The Secretary of Health and Human Services is the head official of HHS. The HHS Secretary is a member of the President's cabinet and serves as a direct advisor to the President on matters relating to public health and well-being. The current Secretary of HHS is Kathleen Sebelius, former governor of the state of Kansas. This page on the HHS website offers biographical information on Secretary Sebelius and updates on her activities and accomplishments in the current presidential administration. 

Subordinate Offices and Agencies of the Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS):

The Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS) manages a number of sub-agencies, offices, public health programs and initiatives, regional health administrations, advisory committees, and presidential councils that deal with a range of issues relating to public health and scientific research, from disease prevention to health concerns of minorities and women to research integrity and bioethics to HIV/AIDS policy to physical fitness. 

The Office of Public Health also oversees the Office of the Surgeon General, the Public Health Commissioned Corps, and the Medical Reserve Corps. Look to the following for more detailed information:

  • Office of the Surgeon General: The Surgeon General is the federal government's chief medical officer and the primary source of medical and health education for the American public. The Surgeon General is also the officer in charge of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. 
  • U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps: The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS) is a uniformed service of the federal government consisting of 6000 full-time professionals in the health care and related fields, including physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, dietitians, social workers, scientists, veterinarians, and engineers, among others. Professionals who serve with the USPHS are front line responders in the event of a health or medical emergency that threatens public health. They also implement various educational, preventative, and treatment programs and initiatives.
  • Medical Reserve Corps: The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a civilian volunteer force intended to supplement the USPHS in times of national crisis or need. Members of the MRC are health care professionals who respond on behalf of the federal government in the event of natural disasters and emergencies and provide community support and resources in the aftermath of such events.
  • Regional Health Administrators: For the purposes of health administration under the auspices of the HHS and OPHS, the United States is divided into ten regions, each with its own Regional Health Administrator. The Regional Health Administrator is a the senior federal public health official for his or her assigned region and reports directly to the OPHS and ASH. Regional Health Administrators serve as agents of the OPHS in their local areas, carrying out duties relating to the implementation of initiatives of preventing disease, with a particular on health issues that impact minorities and women, including reproductive health and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. They also serve as front line agents in responding to public health hazards and emergencies and in maintaining federal readiness and preparedness to deal with such crises. In addition, they assist the OPHS in its primary role of coordinating agencies and agency resources from within the HHS to deal with critical public health missions.
  • National Vaccine Program Office: The National Vaccine Program Office (NVPO) directs and coordinates efforts and resources among federal agencies that implement federal vaccination programs and initiatives. The NVPO homepage provides information on immunizations, including disease preventable by vaccine, vaccine safety, and immunization laws. 
  • Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) is the office of the OPHS primarily concerned with preventing disease, particularly by promoting activities and behaviors that will ward off health conditions. One of the major initiatives of the ODPHP is the formation of dietary and nutritional guidelines and the prevention of obesity.
  • Office of HIV/AIDS Policy: The Office of HIV/AIDS Policy (OHAP) is the center of the efforts of HHS and OPHS to formulate HIV/AIDS Policy and administer programs related to HIV/AIDS prevention, diagnosis, treatment and education.
  • Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS: The objective of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) is to propose policy and formulate recommendations with respect to strategies to be adopted by the federal government in preventing, treating, and containing HIV/AIDS.
  • Office of Human Research Protections: The Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) proposes policy and regulations relating to the use of human subjects in scientific research conducted by, through, or with the support of HHS and the preservation of their health and well-being.
  • Office of Research Integrity: The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) is responsible for monitoring research conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service, investigating accusations of misconduct, enforcing regulations designed to preserve the integrity of the federal government's research efforts in the area of public health, and implementing safeguards designed to maintain research integrity.
  • The President's Council on Bioethics: The President's Council on Bioethics was created by executive order in 2001 to advise the President and the HHS on ethical matters arising in relation to scientific and technological advances and developments. 
  • Office of Population Affairs: The Office of Population Affairs (OPA) advises HHS and OPHS on policies and strategies relating to reproductive health and family planning, including the prevention of teen pregnancy.
  • Office on Women's Health: The Office on Women's Health (OWH) implements initiatives and programs related to health issues unique to women. In particular, the OWH recognizes past disparities between treatment and services provided to women and men which have placed women at a disadvantage. One goal of the OWH is to address and redress these past inequities.
  • Office of Minority Health: The Office of Minority Health (OMH) seeks to propose and implement programs and strategies that will address health issues that are particularly pertinent to members of America's minority populations.
  • Advisory Committe on Blood Safety and Availability: The Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) advises HHS and OPHS on issues relating to the maintenance of a safe blood supply and the development of public health policy to ensure the safety and availability of blood and blood products to promote and preserve public health.
  • The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports: The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (PCPFS) proposes physical activity guidelines for Americans and advises the President on promoting the health of the American public, particularly school children, through activities and behaviors that develop physical fitness.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee: The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee (CFSAC) advises HHS and OPHS regarding research related to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), as well as diagnosis and treatment of CFS. The CFSAC is currently being administered and managed through the Office on Women's Health. 






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