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HHS: What We Do

March 2008

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

Mike Leavitt, Secretary

THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (HHS) is the United States government's principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.

THE DEPARTMENT INCLUDES MORE THAN 300 PROGRAMS, covering a wide spectrum of activities. Some highlights include:

  • Health and social science research
  • Preventing disease, including immunization services
  • Assuring food and drug safety
  • Medicare (health insurance for elderly and disabled Americans) and Medicaid (health insurance for low-income people)
  • Health information technology
  • Financial assistance and services for low-income families
  • Improving maternal and infant health
  • Head Start (pre-school education and services)
  • Faith-based and community initiatives
  • Preventing child abuse and domestic violence
  • Substance abuse treatment and prevention
  • Services for older Americans, including home-delivered meals
  • Comprehensive health services for Native Americans
  • Medical preparedness for emergencies, including potential terrorism.

HHS REPRESENTS ALMOST A QUARTER OF ALL FEDERAL OUTLAYS, and it administers more grant dollars than all other federal agencies combined. HHS' Medicare program is the nation's largest health insurer, handling more than 1 billion claims per year. Medicare and Medicaid together provide health care insurance for one in four Americans.

HHS WORKS CLOSELY WITH STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS, and many HHS-funded services are provided at the local level by state or county agencies, or through private sector grantees. The Department's programs are administered by 11 operating divisions, including eight agencies in the U.S. Public Health Service and three human services agencies. In addition to the services they deliver, the HHS programs provide for equitable treatment of beneficiaries nationwide, and they enable the collection of national health and other data.

  • HHS Budget, FY 2008 -- $707.7 billion
  • HHS employees – 64,750

U.S. Public Health Service Agencies

National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- NIH is the world's premier medical research organization, supporting over 38,000 research projects nationwide in diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, arthritis, heart ailments and AIDS. Includes 27 separate health institutes and centers. Established: 1887, as the Hygienic Laboratory, Staten Island, N.Y. Headquarters: Bethesda, Md. Web site:

  • Employees -- 17,138
  • Director -- Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $29.5 billion

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- FDA assures the safety of foods and cosmetics, and the safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals, biological products, and medical devices -- products which represent almost 25 cents out of every dollar in U.S. consumer spending. Established: 1906, when the Pure Food and Drugs Act gave regulatory authority to the Bureau of Chemistry. Headquarters: Rockville, Md. Web site:

  • Employees -- 10,070
  • Commissioner -- Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D.
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $2.3 billion

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- Working with states and other partners, CDC provides a system of health surveillance to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks (including bioterrorism), implement disease prevention strategies, and maintain national health statistics. Provides for immunization services, workplace safety, and environmental disease prevention.   Also guards against international disease transmission, with personnel stationed in more than 25 foreign countries. The CDC director is also administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which helps prevent exposure to hazardous substances from waste sites on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List, and develops toxicological profiles of chemicals at these sites. Established: 1946, as the Communicable Disease Center. Headquarters: Atlanta, Ga. Web site:

  • Employees -- 8,896
  • Director -- Julie Louise Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H.
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $6.5 billion

Indian Health Service (IHS) -- Working with tribes, IHS provides health services to 1.8 million American Indians and Alaska Natives of more than 560 federally recognized tribes. The Indian health system includes 46 hospitals, 324 health centers, 309 health stations and Alaska Native village clinics, and 34 urban Indian health programs. Established: 1921 (mission transferred from the Interior Department in 1955). Headquarters: Rockville, Md. Web site:

  • Employees: 15,102
  • Acting Director -- Robert G. McSwain, M.P.A.
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $4.3 billion

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) -- HRSA provides access to essential health care services for people who are low-income, uninsured or who live in rural areas or urban neighborhoods where health care is scarce. HRSA-funded health centers will provide medical care to nearly 17 million patients at more than 4,000 sites nationwide in FY 2008. The agency maintains the National Health Service Corps and helps build the health care workforce through training and education programs. Administers a variety of programs to improve the health of mothers and children and serves people living with HIV/AIDS through the Ryan White CARE Act programs. Also oversees the nation's organ transplantation system. Established: 1982 Headquarters: Rockville, Md. Web site:


  • Employees -- 1,540
  • Administrator -- Elizabeth M. Duke, Ph.D.
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $6.9 billion

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) -- SAMHSA works to improve the quality and availability of substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment and mental health services. Provides funding through block grants to states to support substance abuse and mental health services, including treatment for Americans with serious substance abuse problems or mental health problems. Improves substance abuse prevention and treatment services through the identification and dissemination of best practices. Monitors prevalence and incidence of substance abuse. Established: 1992. (A predecessor agency, the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration, was established in 1974.) Headquarters: Rockville, Md. Web site:

  • Employees -- 534
  • Administrator -- Terry L. Cline, Ph.D.
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $3.4 billion

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) -- AHRQ supports research on health care systems, health care quality and cost issues, access to health care, and effectiveness of medical treatments. Also provides evidence-based information on health care outcomes and quality of care. Established: 1989. Headquarters: Rockville, Md. Web site:

  • Employees -- 299
  • Director -- Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D.
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $335 million

Other HHS Agencies

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) -- CMS administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which provide health care to almost one in every three Americans. Medicare provides health insurance for more than 44.6 million elderly and disabled Americans. Medicaid, a joint federal-state program, provides health coverage for some 50 million low-income persons, including 24 million children, and nursing home coverage for low-income elderly. CMS also administers the State Children's Health Insurance Program that covers more than 4.4 million children. Established as the Health Care Financing Administration: 1977. Headquarters: Baltimore, Md. Web sites:

  • Employees -- 4,477
  • Acting Administrator – Kerry N. Weems
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $606.9 billion

Administration for Children and Families (ACF) -- ACF is responsible for some 60 programs that promote the economic and social well-being of children, families and communities. Administers the state-federal welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, providing assistance to an estimated 4 million persons, including 3 million children. Administers the national child support enforcement system, collecting nearly $24 billion in FY 2006 in payments from non-custodial parents, based on preliminary data. Administers the Head Start program, serving nearly 895,000 pre-school children. Provides funds to assist low-income families in paying for child care, and supports state programs to support foster care and provide adoption assistance. Funds programs to prevent child abuse and domestic violence. Established: 1991, bringing together several already-existing programs. Headquarters: Washington, D.C. Web site:

  • Employees -- 1,299
  • Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families -- Daniel Schneider
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $47.4 billion

Administration on Aging (AOA) -- AoA supports a nationwide aging network, providing services to the elderly, especially to enable them to remain independent. Supports some 240 million meals for the elderly each year, including home-delivered "meals on wheels." Helps provide transportation and at-home services. Supports ombudsman services for elderly, and provides policy leadership on aging issues. Headquarters: Washington, D.C. Web site:

  • Employees -- 116
  • Assistant Secretary for Aging -- Josefina G. Carbonell
  • FY 2008 Budget -- $1.4 billion

THE U.S. PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE COMMISSIONED CORPS is a uniformed service of more than 6,000 health professionals who serve in many HHS and other federal agencies. The Surgeon General is head of the Commissioned Corps.

Rear Admiral Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H., Acting Surgeon General

DEPARTMENTAL LEADERSHIP IS PROVIDED by the Office of the Secretary. Also included in the Department is the Office of Public Health and Science, the Office of the HHS Inspector General and the HHS Office for Civil Rights. In addition, the Program Support Center, a self-supporting division of the Department, provides administrative services for HHS and other federal agencies.

HHS WORKS CLOSELY WITH THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, especially in the administration of the Medicare program.

Numbers of "HHS employees" cited here reflect the number of full time equivalent workyears used by the agency in the fiscal year.