The White House is proposing to reduce the size of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps from 6,500 officers to no more than 4,000 officers, a reduction of nearly 40 percent. The proposal is part of a plan announced last month by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to overhaul the federal government. Administration officials say the officers are more costly than equivalent civilians and that “a leaner and more efficient organization” is needed to better respond to public health emergencies.
The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is housed within the Department of Health and Human Services and is over two hundred years old. It is one of the seven uniformed services; members receive military pay and benefits, but are unarmed. All Corps members are officers who work as doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers and other public health professionals across the federal government.
Jim Currie, Executive Director of the Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service, said the reductions would greatly affect the Corps’ ability to respond to disaster sites as it routinely does now. “I don’t quite understand the animosity toward the Commissioned Corps,” he said. “These folks are doing day jobs” — at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and elsewhere within the government — “and when they’re needed, they go and deploy and work their butts off for 12 to 14 hours a day.”
Many of the proposals announced by OMB involve merging entire federal departments, which would require approval from Congress. Reductions in personnel, however, could be achieved through the budget process without going through Congress, Trump administration officials say.
Impact on General Dentistry: The AGD has a number of dentists currently serving in the Commissioned Corps, many of whom are serving within the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Prisons. The AGD will continue to monitor the White House’s proposal closely, while educating Administration officials about the important role Commissioned Corps officers play in public health and disaster response.