Learn More: Public Health Thank You Day

What role does the Federal Government Play in Public Health?

There are many federal agencies that contribute to making America healthier and safer. The CDC is the primary agency for detecting, monitoring, and preventing disease. AHRQ, the central agency for health services research, seeks to make healthcare safer, more affordable, and more equitable. The NIH conducts basic and medical research to understand the mechanisms of disease and develop treatments. The FDA approves drugs for treatment and makes sure drugs are safe and effective.

Click here for a snapshot of the types of research being conducted at federal agencies.

U.S. Surgeon General

The Surgeon General is the leading spokesperson for public health in the U.S. Surgeon Generals have played pivotal roles in keeping America healthy since the position was formed in 1871. The Surgeon General’s landmark report on the harms of tobacco in 1964 alerted the public and turned the tide in the fight against smoking. In the midst of the AIDS epidemic in 1988, there was much fear and ignorance about the disease. The Surgeon General wrote a brochure providing information on HIV/AIDS and sent it to every household in America in what was the largest public health mailing at the time. Current Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., has called on Americans of all ages to get physically active with his Step It Up! Call to Action in order to fight the leading killer heart disease and promote mental well-being. 

U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

Along with the Army and Marine Corps, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC) is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The PHSCC is the world’s largest public health program with 6,700 highly trained professionals overseen by the Surgeon General. Corps officers are dedicated to “serving the underserved” by filling essential public health roles in federal government agencies, such as the FDA, CDC, NIH, and AHRQ.

The U.S. PHSCC was officially established in 1889 to allow quick mobilization of physicians to meet public health challenges across the country. Its role was greatly expanded with the PHS Act of 1944 which added nurses, scientists, dieticians, physical therapists, and health service officers to the corps. In recent years the PHS and Department of Defense joined forces to promote psychological health of service members, veterans, and their families. PHSCC officers are now deployed to military medical treatment facilities to help treat PTSD, insomnia, and anxiety. Learn more at the USPHSS website.

Policy Contacts

Director of Policy and Advocacy
Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.
Abraham Lincoln