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Public Health Service Act

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In 1798, the first Public Health Service Act authorized marine hospitals to care for American merchant seamen. Since its early days, subsequent legislation has vastly changed and expanded the role of the Public Health Service, which is now tasked with protecting and advancing the nation’s physical and mental health.

The Public Health Service Act of 1944 consolidated and revised all existing legislation relating to the Public Health Service and made NCI an operating division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As new legislation is signed into law, new authorizing language for NIH and the NCI is added to the Public Health Service Act.

National Cancer Amendments of 1974


Enacted July 23, 1974 (P.L. 93-352)

  • Authorized expanded authority for NCI to collect, analyze and disseminate information to scientists, health professionals, and the general public.
  • Requires the collection of information regarding nutrition programs for cancer patients and the relationship between nutrition and cancer.
  • Requires that the national cancer control program include programs to provide trials of routine exfoliative cytology tests conducted for the diagnosis of uterine cancer.
  • Authorized the award of construction grants for new construction or alterations/renovations of basic research laboratory facilities.
  • Requires the Director of the NCI to provide for scientific peer review of research contracts and grants.
  • Requires the advice and consent of the Senate to the appointment of the Director of the NIH.
  • Established the President's Biomedical Research Panel to review, assess, identify, and submit a report to the President and Congress of their recommendations with respect to policy issues concerning biomedical and behavioral research conducted and supported under the programs of the National Institutes of Health.


Committee Report No. 93-736 (March 20, 1974)-

The Committee on Labor and Public Welfare submitted the following report to accompany S. 2893. 93rd Congress, 2nd Session.

Excerpts from Committee Views

The committee is alarmed that the integrity and vitality of this Nation’s biomedical research program conducted largely by the NIH is now threatened.  In enacting the National Cancer Act of 1971, the committee did not intend that increases for cancer research be funded at the expense of equally meritorious other biomedical research. Based upon testimony which the Committee received at its hearings on S.2893, the Committee believes decisive action is necessary to remedy this situation. Accordingly, on February 19, 1974, Senator Kennedy, introduced S.3023, a bill to establish a President’s Biomedical Research Panel to oversee and monitor the biomedical research program of the NIH (including the research programs of the NIMH).

  • The committee believes that the President’s Biomedical Research Panel will be as effective as the President’s Cancer Panel.
  • The committee recommends that the President, in selecting the appointed members of the President’s Biomedical Research Panel, solicit the names of appropriate candidates from groups of experts in the scientific and biomedical fields, such as the National Academy of Sciences.
  • The committee’s recommendation for establishment of a President’s Biomedical Research Panel stems in part from experience under the National Cancer Act, since the growth of the cancer program has clearly been at the expense of other NIH research activities.
  • The committee feels that the panel could play a number of additional roles.  For example, it could add its advice to the process by which NIH identifies areas of scientific inquiry suitable for increased emphasis.

The Medical Facilities Construction and Modernization Amendment of 1970 contained a provision designed to assure the availability and expenditure of appropriated health funds.  This provision, unless amended, would expire on the first of July 1974. S. 2893 would permanently extend it.

  • The Committee has felt it appropriate to do this in view of the recent Administration record of impoundment of funds and the Administration’s express desire to terminate many health programs prior to Congressional review of them.

The Committee, as well as the vast majority of witnesses who testified before it, believes that to effectively implement Section 408 (a), a provision must be made to permit the designation of more than the 15 new Comprehensive Cancer Centers stipulated in the National Cancer Act of 1971.

  • Based on population studies carried out by the Committee, a total of 35 would provide access to 75 percent of the population without requiring an overnight stay. 
  • The Committee believes that no American should be denied first class cancer care simply because of where he may live.

The Director of the National Cancer Program must be able to plan, manage, organize and assess the activities of the program with sufficient flexibility to maximize the program’s efforts. Therefore, the committee recommends changes to allow the Director, NCI, additional latitude in the management of the program.

The Committee is concerned about the loss of the independent authorities of the Director, NCI, to conduct a full range of communications, information and public affairs activities in support of the National Cancer Program.  Therefore, the committee’s bill offers new provisions to provide independence for the Director in this regard.

Community Mental Health Center Extension Act of 1978 and Biomedical Research and Research Training Amendments of 1978

  • Enacted November 9, 1978 (P.L. 95-622)
  • Re-codified the 1971 Act; reorganized and consolidated duties and functions of the NCI Director
  • Language regarding the scope of the National Cancer Program as including other Federal and non-Federal programs was dropped
  • Called for an expanded and intensified research program for the prevention of cancer caused by occupational or environmental exposure to carcinogens
  • Reduced minimum number of President's Cancer Panel meetings from 12 to 4 per year
  • Expanded the mission of cancer centers to include basic research and prevention
  • Expanded and strengthened the cancer control mandate to emphasize the importance of education and demonstration programs initiated within local communities and hospitals
  • Added several ex-officio members to the NCAB, reflecting the importance of environmental and occupation carcinogenesis research and required that five of the appointed members be knowledgeable in environmental carcinogenesis

Health Research Extension Act of 1985

  • Enacted November 20, 1985 (P.L. 99-158).
  • Established the position of Associate Director for Prevention.
  • Added the NCI's mission and cancer control activities research on continuing care of cancer patients and their families.
  • Consolidated cancer communication activities and highlighted the International Cancer Research Data Bank.

Health Omnibus Program Extension of 1988

  • Enacted November 4, 1988 (P.L. 100-607)
  • Added rehabilitation research to NCI's mission
  • Further expanded NCI's information dissemination programs

National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006

Introduced on September 25, 2006 in the House of Representatives (H.R. 6164) by Rep. Joe Barton (TX - 6th district).

  • It passed in the House on September 26, 2006 and passed the Senate on December 8, 2006.
  • This bill was signed by the President on January 15, 2007, and became P.L. 109-482.
  • This bill amends title IV of the Public Health Service Act to revise and extend the authorities of the National Institutes of Health, and for other purposes.
  • The National Institutes of Health Reform Act of 2006 amends the Public Health Service Act by:
    • Reorganizing the NIH;
    • Establishing the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives (the Division);
    • Limiting the total number of national research institutes and national centers; and establishing procedures for future NIH reorganizations.
  • The act also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish the Scientific Management Review Board to advise the appropriate officials on the organization of NIH.
  • Additionally, it calls upon the Director of NIH to:
    • Oversee program coordination across institutes and centers;
    • Ensure that research activities comply with research priorities; and,
    • Ensure that NIH resources are appropriately and adequately allocated for research projects.
  • Under this act, the NIH director is to create a Council of Councils that will advise the Director on policies and activities of the new Division.
  • This bill requires:
    • Electronic codification of research grants and related activities;
    • Establishes the NIH reporting requirements to Congress, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and other entities within the Department of Health and Human Services; and,
    • It permits the NIH director to allocate funds for public health research that draws upon the collaboration between the biological, behavioral, and social sciences, as well as the physical, chemical, mathematical, and computational sciences.
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