ment. An Office of Workforce Planning and Policy (OWPP) was created as the organizational locus for external workforce development activities within CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) (a recommendation of the CDC/ATSDR Strategic Plan for Public Health Workforce Development, 2000). The OWPP assures coordination and accountability for implementing the strategic plan, oversees the development of workforce policies and standards, and convenes partners, as needed, to address issues and to provide support and technical assistance. The goal is to improve the ability of public health workers, nation-wide, to perform the essential services of public health, and to prepare the workforce to respond to current and emerging health threats.
The CDC has funded 15 Centers for Public Health Preparedness based in schools of public health that are specifically charged to assure that the nation’s public health workforce is ready to respond to emergencies, especially those associated with bioterrorism. This specialized activity has eclipsed the more general support for implementing the Strategic Plan for the Development of the Public Health Workforce created in 2000.
The potential roles for federal agencies in developing the public health workforce for the 21st century could take several forms, and are in the following categories:
Development of academic programs
Development of faculty
Support for students
The education of public health professionals is built on a very slender research base. There is little or no research to support advancing the M.P.H. degree as the hallmark of readiness to practice public health, or on the differential contributions to public health of persons educated in various combinations of professional and on-the-job programs. Neither is there a research base on the relationship of staff preparation to outcomes of public health programs. While there has been discussion of building a public health systems research base (parallel to that available for studying questions about personal care and the medical care system), only the first steps have been taken. The federal agencies, especially CDC and HRSA, should make funds available for this important research, either as specifically funded studies or as components of other research portfolios.