Public Health Leaders Connect to Strengthen State and Federal Relations

March 14, 2018|5:14 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

On March 14, ASTHO hosted a workshop on leadership in government as part of this year’s Washington Week, convening more than two dozen state and territorial health officials for discussions on developing a deeper understanding of how federal organizations, processes, systems, and relationships related to public health work and how to interact effectively with government representatives and organizations.

Leadership in Government OverviewASTHO Executive Director Michael Fraser began by welcoming ASTHO members and introducing John Monahan, senior advisor for global health at Georgetown University, as well as Howard Koh (alumnus-MA), former HHS assistant secretary for health and professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, both of whom moderated the day’s panels.

Leadership in Government Session 1The first session focused on coordinating with federal representatives on Capitol Hill. The panel of experts, including Marissa Levine (SHO-VA), shared tips for building and sustaining strong relationships with congressional delegations and designated federal liaisons, as well as challenges and opportunities. “One of the values of ASTHO is that we have the opportunity to speak in one voice,” said Levine, emphasizing ASTHO’s role in developing federal relations. John Monahan concluded the session with three key takeaways, advising state and territorial health officials to embrace their credibility, focus on relationships, and clearly communicate their priorities.

Leadership in Government Session 2The next session focused on federal spending and how the President’s Budget impacts these spending levels. Carolyn Mullen, ASTHO’s chief of government affairs, opened with a brief introduction on the budget process and then turned it over to the panel for discussion. Gerd Clabaugh (SHO-IA) detailed the role state health officials play when balancing tradeoffs between state and federal budget priorities and the responsibilities of a public health agency. “Right now, in this time of austerity, we face challenges, but we have the opportunity to get back to core public health functions,” said Clabaugh.

Leadership in Government Session 3Tahra Johnson discussed perspectives from the National Conference of State Legislatures during lunch, followed by a session that offered an orientation to HHS. Howard Koh discussed the activities of agencies important to public health, such as CDC, HRSA, SAMHSA, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, and shared personal experiences about what he wishes he had known as a state health official. The session also covered how, when, and why state and territorial health officials should connect with HHS, as well as the core mission and functions of regional health administrators. “It’s important to get to know the folks in the regional offices,” said ASTHO Immediate-Past President Jay Butler (SHO-AK). “They can be a real asset.”

Leadership in Government Session 4The afternoon concluded with a session on HHS opioid coordination and cross-cutting activities. Cecilia Spitznas, senior science policy advisor for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, spoke on cross-sector partnerships related to the opioid epidemic, detailing federal coordination with ASTHO members, strategies to prevent drug abuse and dependence, as well as approaches to treating people with substance use disorders, including naloxone administration and medication-assisted treatment. The panel ended with a presentation on partnerships for children and families, with a focus on early care and education as well as opportunities to coordinate with state and territorial public health officials.