Most Americans (and likely many folks around the world) think of the US military as comprising the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. However, there are also the United States Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Commissioned Officer Corps. Wikipedia explains that these two services have their roots working closely with or being part of the rest of the US military. However, it seems that these days they are usually not deployed as part of a war effort or in conjunction with the other branches and that their structure and operations are quite different from those of the rest of the other services.

Given these considerations, what are the present-day advantages of having the NOAA and PHS corps be commissioned and uninformed versus structuring them as civilian functions?

Note that I have asked a similar question on History about the historical considerations.


One element which uniformed military services, the PHS Commissioned Corps, and the NOAA Commissioned Corps have in common which distinguishes them from civilian positions in government is that uniformed services put people who are members of them in situations in which the members of the corps are not permitted to quit once they have enrolled, until their term of service has expired.

Outside military or quasi-military service, the 13th Amendment ban on slavery and indentured servitude prohibits employment which cannot be terminated voluntarily at any time. There can be monetary penalties for quitting, but someone can't be compelled to do their job involuntarily.

But, just as the military needs to have soldiers who can't quit when they learn that they are being deployed to a high risk, potentially deadly assignment and could be ordered on suicidal missions for the betterment of the public, similar considerations apply to the PHS Commissioned Corps and the NOAA Commissioned Corps.

PHS Commissioned Corps personnel are deployed in emergencies to deal with often ill understood disease epidemics that can and do lead to the death of such personnel. NOAA Commissioned Corps members are sent into natural disasters that similarly present a high risk of death to people investigating and dealing with them. The NOAA Corps has also frequently served adjunct to military forces providing data for military purposes gathered at or near the front lines in what amounts to a military intelligence gathering function and could be impressed to do so in the future if it were necessary for them to do so. But, it isn't practicable to allow these highly trained personnel to simply back out of high risk situations so that the agency has to bargain in a highly unfavorable situation to obtain people with scarce skills to do the work on a market rate basis.

So, they have to be denied the right afforded to all other civilians to quit their jobs unilaterally, and this is most easily accommodated in the current legal environment by making them part of a uniformed service were precedents authorizing the inability to quit one's job notwithstanding the 13th Amendment are readily available and applicable.

  • This answer is rather biases, stilted towards the focus that the government has conscripted individuals to serve the state. – Drunk Cynic Jul 14 '19 at 1:24
  • @DrunkCynic Not sure what is biased about it. Involuntary service is pretty much definitionally the difference between a uniformed service and a civilian service. Not saying it is a good thing or a bad thing necessarily, just an explanation for the way that it is. – ohwilleke Jul 14 '19 at 15:37

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