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HHS in the 21st Century: Charting a New Course for a Healthier America
A STRENGTHENED SCIENCE BASE
A recent report examining presidential appointments affirms (NRC, 2008):
The nation requires exceptionally able scientists and engineers in top executive positions and on federal advisory committees to weigh available data, to consider the advice of scientists and technical specialists, and in the case of presidential appointees to make key management, programmatic, and policy decisions.
In HHS, the kinds of scientific expertise needed are broad: they include biomedical scientists doing laboratory and clinical research, behavioral scientists, statisticians and epidemiologists, health services researchers, policy analysts, economists, and others applying their skills to solving problems that range from the size of a molecule to the size of the health care system.
Although much of this report dwells on the applied sciences, especially health services research and systems analysis, the committee recognizes that basic biomedical research is essential to achieving continued medical progress. Many significant diseases still do not have effective prevention or treatment options. Prime examples are Alzheimer’s disease, pancreatic cancer, autism, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, schizophrenia, and many genetic conditions. These are not the “new threats” to which this report often refers, but rather well-known problems that require new knowledge or new approaches to solve.
The department explicitly acknowledges the importance of scientific research. As one of four goals in its five-year strategic plan, its “scientific research and development” goal aims to “advance scientific and biomedical research and development related to health and human services” (HHS, 2007). The objectives supporting this goal would
strengthen the pool of qualified health, biomedical, and behavioral science researchers;
increase basic scientific knowledge to improve human health and human development;
conduct and oversee applied research to improve health and well-being; and