What is the US Secretary of Health and Human Services?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2019
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The United States Secretary of Health and Human Services is the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, an government agency responsible for health matters in the United States. This department has existed since 1979, when it was split from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and it handles a wide range of programs. One well-known bureau within the department is the Food and Drug Administration, which supervises the safety of the American drug supply.

This is a cabinet-level position, with the US Secretary of Health and Human Services being appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. As with the other cabinet secretaries, this person is in the presidential line of succession, which means that he or she could potentially be obligated to serve as the president of the United States. The secretary is 12th on the succession list, however, so something rather catastrophic would need to occur.

The Department of Health and Human Services is an extremely large government agency that oversees over 300 programs, ranging from the Head Start program, which provides preschool to disadvantaged children, to the National Institutes of Health. The US Secretary of Health and Human Services keeps the president updated on public health issues, and meets with him or her to discuss issues of public policy that pertain to health matters.


In addition to supervising things like drug safety, health care for low-income Americans, disease epidemics, elder care, substance abuse treatment programs, medical technology, disease prevention, and health care for Native Americans, the secretary also plays a vital role in terrorism preparedness. As former people in this position have pointed out, the American food, water, and drug supply is very vulnerable to terrorism, and this agency is designed to act quickly in the case of any medical emergency, whether it is created by terrorism, a natural disaster, or a human accident.

Due to the large size of the Department of Health and Human Services, it is obviously impossible for the secretary to oversee all operations at all times. He or she is supported by a large staff of undersecretaries and other officials, some of whom are also subject to confirmation hearings. These staffers are not in line for the presidency, although some are included in the line of succession to the position of US Secretary of Health and Human Services, in the event that the this person needs to be replaced for any reason.


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