Few officers outside the beltway of Washington D.C. may realize it, but the Corps operates one-person deep in many critical areas, with some Divisions composed of just two or three dedicated and overworked officers. Just 50 officers are available to 6,691 active duty officers, thousands more retirees, and a large number of applicants. All with forms to review, process, data to enter, emails to answer, communications to draft, the Corps has no Auxiliary like the Coast Guard, no Reservists, no Warrant Officers, no Enlisted personnel to assist in its administration. It’s probably time to ask retirees and former Reservists in the Washington D.C. area to step up and volunteer their time if administrating that volunteer help doesn’t add another burden on its overextended staff.
In what can only be described as an amazing contrast to funding levels in other areas of government, the USPHS Commissioned Corps is being operationally hamstrung by a lack of personnel to manage day to day operations which move its mission forward.
Imagine the following scenario for the Department of Defense (DoD). It has no fixed operational budget. It constantly asks a committee to vote on funding, yet the committee has no incentive to support its wars, its operations, nor its initiatives, and in fact often says “no”. It pays rent on the Pentagon. It holds basic training (boot camp) in hotels. It has barely the funding to pay salaries, rent, utilities and other fixed expenses, and has laid off nearly 50% of its administrative staff in 3 years. It has no Armed Services Committee. It’s operational budget in 2012 for administration is 0.002% of the total U.S. government budget, the same as the USPHS Commissioned Corps (2012 Corp Budget: $21 Million / DHHS Budget 872 Billion = 0.002%). DoD facilities, staff, IT systems, recruiting, processing new hires, training, basically all the needs of all of its soldiers are expected to be met with just $74 Million (0.002% x U.S. FY 2012 federal spending of $3.7 trillion).
Imagine if, after DoD paid for salaries, rent, utilities, and security out of the $74 Million, it had to consider its boot camps to be discretionary spending. It also might not be able to afford office supplies, awards for soldiers, printing, mailing or travel. And, it expects next year to be the same or worse.
Does the public deserve a robust, functioning, growing Commissioned Corps you might ask? Before you answer, you might want to ask if the public was served by massive spending at the local, state and federal level in the name of anti-terrorism? Was it served by billions spent on high-tech weaponry? Do citizens need funds to be spent on threats, or real life problems? How about mental health services for thousands of soldiers? Maybe citizens would rather spend tax dollars on health diplomacy missions? Response to domestic natural disasters? Education programs that put more health care providers in school? How about pulling some rotten teeth or diagnosing cancer or putting prescription glasses on the poorest of our nation, 50 million who cannot get health care except through an emergency room?
If you are an officer reading this, somewhere in this vast country of ours, and you think this is beltway politics and it doesn’t affect you, you are flat wrong. You might ask yourself, what can I do? It’s simple, understand that your Corps is stretched to the limit so you must do your best to answer your own questions or seek help from other officers in your agency, or here, or from the dcp.psc.gov website. Understand that you must be patient. But above all, be the very best at what you do and prove yourself to your agency. Volunteer for tough, hard to fill assignments. Understand that public service doesn’t mean self service. And last but not least, don’t ever let anybody in headquarters have to ask for more funding and at the same time have to explain why you are not ready for deployment.