Collaboration – How HHS Agencies Work with Outside Entities
There are several common approaches to collaboration across HHS. There are a large number of interagency or collaboration agreements with other federal agencies and with non-federal partners. Many of these are targeted to specific activities such as implementing quality improvement methods, patient safety methods, evidence-based health care practices, facilitation of healthy behaviors, etc.
In developing a profile of HHS collaborations, the following was addressed in a survey of the organization: “How does your agency foster collaboration, and what approaches will your agency take to revise its current practices to further cooperation with other Federal and non-Federal government agencies, the public, and non-profit and private entities in fulfilling the agency’s core mission activities?”
Notable examples of collaboration are articulated by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) annual report on collaboration efforts with other agencies. As required by the Public Health Service (PHS) Act, NIH must provide the Secretary with a report including detailed information on all of its activities and collaborations with other HHS agencies. These include hundreds of collaborations in areas of health such as autism, HIV/AIDS, childhood vaccines, and dozens of other diseases, as well as collaborations on the creation of resources and infrastructure in the realms of IT architecture, unique databases and data collection and evaluation. NIH engages in major international collaborations to study and ameliorate or eliminate disease and has a formal program of public-private partnerships addressing major scientific discovery. For example, the Biomarkers Consortium, a unique public-private partnership that includes FDA, NIH, and major pharmaceutical companies, led by the Foundation for NIH, just announced the launch of a clinical trial, I-SPY2, to help screen promising new drugs being developed for women who have high risk, fast-growing breast cancers—women for whom an improvement over standard treatment could dramatically change the odds of survival.
At the FDA, there are many examples of collaboration with other agencies within HHS, other federal agencies, and with state, local and foreign governments. The FDA works closely with state and local public health departments to protect the nation’s food supply. Recent activities include the opening of a center, operating under the direction of Customs and Border Protection, to work with FDA and other agencies on matters relating to the safety of foods imported to the United States, to which FDA is providing on-site expertise. FDA collaborates with CDC, USDA, and state and local public health departments on surveillance, investigation, and response to outbreaks of food-borne and other enteric illnesses. Additionally, through the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), FDA integrates federal, state, and local laboratories into a network that can respond to emergencies involving biological, chemical or radiological contamination of food.
FDA also collaborates extensively with foreign governments. In addition to establishing offices overseas, the FDA has a large number of formal agreements and arrangements with its counterparts in different countries, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization, which improve the effectiveness of FDA programs by providing mechanisms for sharing human, scientific, and investigational resources and knowledge and by promoting responsible international standards and regulations. In a new pilot program, the FDA combined resources with the European Union and Australia to conduct inspections of facilities in certain countries that manufacture the starting materials for many drugs that end up in the United States and other countries.
Current approaches to collaboration in HHS are also shown in a number of notable efforts at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS increases collaboration through health care industry forums including town hall meetings, open door forums, federal advisory committees, and industry presentations. Business partner collaboration activities include meetings with associations, Medicaid and Medicare Part D user calls and quality alliances and initiatives. CMS also collaborates with other federal and governmental entities via departmental work groups, Medicare program operations, and through the Nationwide Health Information Network. CMS is also active in collaboration on a civil level with participation in human resources, labor relations and other administrative function bodies and panels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed innovative approaches to collaboration with external partners. Two examples include PHGrid and HuGENet. PHGrid is a research and development activity that links multiple collaborators in the public, academic, and private sectors to help develop the capabilities of grid computing as they apply to public health. HUGENet is a linkage into a “network of networks” promoting the exchange of research findings in genetic research. This effort is also tied to similar networks in Australia, Europe, and across North America. This allows for scientists to collaborate and share genomic knowledge that can be used to prevent disease and improve health in all stages of life.
At the local level, HHS regional offices play an important role in collaboration. Across the country, the HHS regional offices serve as the gateway through which communities and individual citizens can interact with the Department. For example, the regional offices can play an important role in collaborating with local governments and communities in policy development and the implementation of new HHS programs. They also play a key role in providing and/or coordinating services for citizens, and often serve as the primary point-of-contact for citizen engagement with HHS.
For Open Government activities, HHS is participating in an array of federal-wide activities, some of which have formal communities of practice associated with them. HHS employees are widely engaged in work on ideation tools; competitions and challenges; data sharing; and best practices in use of new media and social networking platforms.