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New Authority Gives State and Tribal Governments More Flexibility to Support a Better Disaster Health Response

Author: Bailey Rybak, Program Analyst, ASPR Office of Emergency and Nathan Hurwitz, Management and Presidential Management Fellow, ASPR Office of Emergency
Published Date: 11/4/2016 10:27:00 AM
Category: Public Health Preparedness;

When a disaster strikes, state, local, tribal and territorial governments may want all hands on deck to respond to the crisis.  Historically, that has been easier said than done.  Staff who are funded under the Public Health Service (PHS) Act were only allowed to work within the scope of the program they were funded to support, even if responding to a disaster would have enabled them to better protect the community’s health.

But now, a state governor, tribal leader, or their designees can ask the Secretary of Health and Human Services to authorize the temporary reassignment of state, tribal, and local personnel during a certain emergencies.

The ability to temporarily reassign these personnel during public health emergencies is an important flexibility for state, tribal, and local governments. Using this new authority, State and local health departments and tribal organizations are can increase the workforce available to respond to public health emergencies within the state or territory. 

Can this authority be used to respond to any disaster or emergency?

No.  This authority can only be used following the declaration of a Public Health Emergency by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

What kinds of staff are typically funded by the PHS Act?  Who can be reassigned?

This grants HHS the authority to temporarily reassign state, tribal and local health department personnel, who are currently funded under PHS related programs, from their current positions to roles directly supporting the response to a public health emergency.

There are over a hundred programs eligible for temporary reassignment under this authority, including staff from ASPR’s Hospital Preparedness Program and CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness program.  To learn more about your program’s options, talk to your program’s headquarters.

How can states and tribes request the temporary reassignment of personnel?

After the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services declares a public health emergency, a state governor, tribal leader, or designee can request the temporary reassignment of personnel by completing the Request for the Temporary Reassignment of State, Tribal, and Local Personnel During a Public Health Emergency Declared by the HHS Secretary and submitting it to TemporaryReassignment@hhs.gov.

As part of the request, you will need to include the location, contact information, the applicable program, number of personnel eligible to volunteer for reassignment, activities that will be conducted by reassigned personnel, and the impact the reassignment will have on both the emergency response and on the base program’s ability to meet the mission.

Does the Authority have any limitations?

Once approved, the reassignment will last no longer than 30 days or until the HHS Secretary determines that the public health emergency no longer exists, whichever comes first. States and tribes can apply for an extension if the emergency lasts longer than 30 days.  This authority is also only applicable to those states and tribes in the geographic area affected by the public health emergency. Additionally personnel have the opportunity to volunteer for temporary reassignment. They are not required to agree to be reassigned. 

Are States or Tribes expected to do anything after reassignment has ended?

Within 120 days of the end of the temporary reassignment, the state or tribe will submit a report to TemporaryReassignment@hhs.gov outlining the effect the reassignment had the program and the emergency response. This report will include: the number of personnel reassigned; the amount of funds used to support the reassigned personnel; impact the reassignment had on the program both positive and negative; and how it made the emergency response more efficient.

How will programs' steady-state work be handled during reassignment?

Reassignments are temporary and strictly voluntary. Thus, if staff have a critical deadline or project, they can opt out of the reassignment.

How can I learn more?

To learn more, check out the Guidance for Temporary Reassignment of State and Local Personnel during a Public Health Emergency.


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