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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Whole-of-Government Approach: What It Means and How It Translates to Improving National Health Security

Author: Daniel Dodgen, Ph.D., Senior Advisor, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 2/6/2019 9:46:00 AM
Category: National Health Security; Public Health Preparedness;

National Health Security Strategy Blog Series: Part 2

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published its quadrennial strategy to safeguard the nation’s health in times of crisis. The 2019-2022 National Health Security Strategy (NHSS) provides a vision to strengthen the nation’s ability to prevent, detect, assess, prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from disasters and emergencies.

The new strategy focuses on three overarching objectives: 1) prepare, mobilize, and coordinate a whole-of-government approach; 2) protect the nation from the health effects of emerging and pandemic infectious diseases and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats; and 3) leverage the capabilities of the private sector. For more information about the NHSS, its purpose and objectives, see part one in this blog series, which explains how the NHSS shapes the federal approach to evolving threats. In this blog, I will dig deeper in to the “whole-of-government” concept.

So what does whole-of-government mean? And, how is ASPR using the concept to help the nation prepare for, respond to, and recovery from medical emergencies and public health disasters?

The purpose of the whole-of-government approach is to create a culture that facilitates a shared vision between federal agencies both within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and across all federal departments. Inter and intra-agency coordination and cooperation strengthens departments’ abilities to operate as one system rather than a collection of separate components. It establishes a unified effort between government agencies to maximize all available resources—personnel, funding, and equipment and supplies—in a collaborative effort.

Within ASPR, the demand for a whole-of-government approach will continue to grow as the health security threats to our nation continue to grow and change. The use of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons; cyber warfare; emerging infectious diseases that could lead to a pandemic; and the growing occurrence of catastrophic natural disasters and human-caused incidents, such as wildfires, are driving efforts to share resources.

The 2019-2022 NHSS, as well as other policies, guidelines, and strategies developed under ASPR leadership, takes the whole-of-government concept a step further by investing in strong partnerships with the private sector. Leveraging the capabilities of our nation’s hospitals and health care coalitions, public health and emergency management communities, biotech firms, academia, and voluntary organizations improve the nation’s ability to actively respond to and recover from 21st century health security threats and reduce illness, injury, and loss of life to first responders and victims. The end state being a whole-of-nation approach to health care security emphasizing:

  • more partnerships to promote enhanced situational awareness and coordination of efforts to address critical threats on the national, state, tribal, territorial, and local levels.
  • improved engagement with international partners to rapidly identify, characterize, and report international health threats that pose risks to America.
  • identification and collaboration with non-traditional health stakeholders to enhance preparedness for health threats, reduce and mitigate disaster risks, and build resilience.

To learn more about this approach, download a copy of the 2019-2022 NHSS.

The 2019-2022 National Health Security blog series is designed to highlight key aspects of this new strategy to protect the nation from a wide range of threats to national health security, including natural disasters; disease outbreaks and pandemics; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies; and cybersecurity vulnerabilities.  To stay up to date as new blog posts are published, follow us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.


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