What is the Ready Reserve Corps?

The recently passed H.R.3590, or The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or just The Healthcare Bill, contains the following:.

SEC. 430. ESTABLISHING A READY RESERVE CORPS.=
Section 203 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 204) is amended to read as follows:

SEC. 203. COMMISSIONED CORPS AND READY RESERVE CORPS.

(a) ESTABLISHMENT.-

(1) IN GENERAL.-There shall be in the Service a commissioned Regular Corps and a Ready Reserve Corps for service in time of national emergency.

(2) REQUIREMENT.-All commissioned officers shall be citizens of the United States and shall be appointed without regard to the civil-service laws and compensated without regard to the Classification Act of 1923, as amended.

(3) APPOINTMENT.-Commissioned officers of the Ready Reserve Corps shall be appointed by the President and commissioned officers of the Regular Corps shall be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

(4) ACTIVE DUTY.-Commissioned officers of the Ready Reserve Corps shall at all times be subject to call to active duty by the Surgeon General, including active duty for the purpose of training.

(5) WARRANT OFFICERS.-Warrant officers may be appointed to the Service for the purpose of providing support to the health and delivery systems maintained by the Service and any warrant officer appointed to the Service shall be considered for purposes of this Act and title 37, United States Code, to be a commissioned officer within the Commissioned Corps of the Service.

(b) ASSIMILATING RESERVE CORP OFFICERS INTO THE REGULAR CORPS.-Effective on the date of enactment of the Affordable Health Choices Act, all individuals classified as officers in the Reserve Corps under this section (as such section existed on the day before the date of enactment of such Act) and serving on active duty shall be deemed to be commissioned officers of the Regular Corps.

(c) PURPOSE AND USE OF READY RESERVE.-

(1) PURPOSE.-The purpose of the Ready Reserve Corps is to fulfill the need to have additional Commissioned Corps personnel available on short notice (similar to the uniformed service’s reserve program) to assist regular Commissioned Corps personnel to meet both routinepublic health and emergency response missions.

(2) USES.-The Ready Reserve Corps shall-

(A) participate in routine training to meet the general and specific needs of the Commissioned Corps;

(B) be available and ready for involuntary calls to active duty during national emergenciesand public health crises, similar to the uniformed service reserve personnel;

(C) be available for backfilling critical positions left vacant during deployment of active dutyCommissioned Corps members, as well as for deployment to respond to public healthemergencies, both foreign and domestic; and

(D) be available for service assignment in isolated, hardship, and medically underserved communities (as defined in section 399SS) to improve access to health services.

(d) FUNDING.-For the purpose of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of the Commissioned Corps under this section, there are authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to the Office of the Surgeon General for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2014. Funds appropriated under this subsection shall be used for recruitment and training of Commissioned Corps Officers.

Yikes! What is all of that?

Some have identified the above legislation as providing the President with a personal army of sorts. Perhaps it does, but let’s dissect the text to find out more.

First the purpose of the section is to institute a “Ready Reserve Corps”, the purpose of which is “to fulfill the need to have addition Commissioned Corps personnel available on short notice, to meet both routine public health and emergency response missions.” So the bill has created a Commissioned Corps reserve unit. What is the Commissioned Corps anyway?

Well, it turns out that the Commissioned Corps is one of seven branches of the armed services, yes one of seven. The seven being the five your are most familiar with – the Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, and the Coast Guard – plus the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officers Corps, and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. The last of the seven, the USPHSCC, is the one to which H.R.3590 refers. The Wikipedia article is instructive.

The Surgeon General is the commanding officer of the USPHCC and in turn reports to the Assistant Secretary of Health.

From the website of the USPHSCC:

“The mission of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation. As America’s uniformed service of public health professionals, the Commissioned Corps achieves its mission through:

  • Rapid and effective response to public health needs
  • Leadership and excellence in public health practices
  • Advancement of public health science

“As an officer of the Commissioned Corps, you may:

  • Provide essential public health and health care services to underserved and disadvantaged populations
  • Prevent and control injury and the spread of disease
  • Ensure that the Nation’s food supply, drinking water, drugs, medical devices, and environment are safe
  • Conduct and support cutting-edge research for the prevention, treatment, and elimination of disease, health disparities, and injury
  • Work with other nations and international agencies to address global health challenges
  • Provide urgently needed public health and clinical expertise in response to large-scale local, regional, and national public health emergencies and disasters”

So, like the department they are part of suggests, they have a mission to aid in public health operations and emergencies. Of course “public health” is a somewhat nebulous phrase in and of itself, but if we take all of this at face value then the Ready Reserve Corp would probably be called up during a national emergency like we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Unfortunately the scope of power of the USPHSCC can not be distilled from this, and sadly I can not figure out what the Surgeon General’s scope of power is. Indeed what is the scope of power for the entire Department of Health and Human Services? It feels like one of those unconstitutional departments, doesn’t it?

Let’s keep reading the bill.

Another interesting part is that the USPHSCC can now recruit Warrant Officers. Turns out a Warrant Officer is of a set of officers below the Commissioned Officers. Previously the USPHSCC only had Commissioned Officers. Okay fine, the USPHSCC is expanding. That was obvious from the beginning.

And that’s what’s interesting about this… not really too much at all methinks.

Well unless you start to imagine how the vagueness of the bill could be used for mischief. Unfortunately, again it would be necessary to understand the scope of power this agency has. How much mission creep is possible? [Note: the scope of power question really must be answered to have a good answer for what all of this means.]

Anyway I think the “Obama has a private army” stuff is probably overstated. Hell, we already have the DEA, ATF, and FBI. Don’t they pretty much have “private army” covered if push comes to shove. These organizations have already been known to get out of hand. Do you recall Waco or Ruby Ridge?

And of course there is Black Water and other mercenary organizations, which have been deployed on United States soil before, specifically in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

There are bigger uglier things to worry about.

But in any case, the expansion of USPHSCC spends more money we don’t have on something that is almost certainly unconstitutional. Of course, that’s what H.R.3590 is ALL about!

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  1. #1 by Yes, but.. on Sunday, March 28, 2010 - 14:33

    Thanks for the nice explanation. I researched that stuff myself, but only after you had (which is how I found your site). My question is: why does the title of the section in the new bill use the term “establishing”? It says “Establishing a Reserve Corp.” Since its (ostensibly) already established, why did the lawyers writing the bill use “establishing” in the language? Your thoughts?

    • #2 by kungfucraig on Sunday, March 28, 2010 - 15:35

      Actually the Reserve Corps did not exist before the bill. Rather only the Commissioned Corps did. Basically the bill added a reserve component to the Commissioned Corps.

  2. #3 by freedomactionnow on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - 19:01

    Why does Obama get to appoint Commissioned Officers? The other services promote from within (except at General rank).

    Is it because there will be so few of them?

    I admit that it’s possible to read a lot of mischief into this section, but given the Administration’s record so far, I think we need a lot of extra reassurances.

  3. #4 by Tien on Saturday, August 13, 2011 - 02:37

    I have not checked in here for some time since I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are great quality so I guess I’ll add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it friend :)

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