A major objective of the Department's establishment was to improve the administration of Federal responsibilities in the fields of health, education, and social security. Creation of the Department also assured that its areas of concern were represented in the President's Cabinet.
There were six major components of the new Department: the Public Health Service; the Office of Education; the Food and Drug Administration; the Social Security Administration; the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation; and Saint Elizabeths Hospital. The Department also was responsible for three Federally Aided Corporations: Howard University; the American Printing House for the Blind; and the Columbia Institution for the Deaf.
In addition, the Office of the Secretary was responsible for overall administration and coordination of Department activities.
The Department began with 35,408 full-time employees and a budget of $7,017,302,000, including $1,936,308,000 in Federal funds (general revenue) and $6,507,960,000 in social security trust funds.
A highlight of the first year was the dedication on July 2, 1953, of the NIH Clinical Center, a 500-bed research hospital to serve physicians and patients throughout the Nation in the fields of cancer, mental illness, arthritis, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. Its first patients were admitted 4 days later.
On July 12, 1954, President Eisenhower signed a law which provided funds, under a matching formula with the States and local organizations, to build chronic disease hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities.
Another new health law, enforced by the Food and Drug Administration, provided a procedure for establishing safe tolerances for pesticide chemical residues on raw agricultural products.
Legislation signed August 3, 1954, authorized programs to increase fourfold within 5 years the annual number of disabled people rehabilitated for self-support.
In the educational field, the Cooperative Research Act authorized the Office of Education to conduct cooperative research programs with educational institutions and agencies concerned with problems of education.
In one of the earliest actions of the new Department, a group of consultants thoroughly studied the social security system. The result was a legislative proposal that would extend social security to farm and domestic workers and the self-employed. It was enacted September 1, 1954, adding 10 million persons to social security rolls. The new law meant that 9 out of 10 American workers were covered by the system.
A major organizational development took place in 1954. On June 18, P.L. 83-568 transferred the Indian Health program involving 3,400 personnel from the Department of the Interior to PHS.
Development by Dr. Jonas Salk of a vaccine against paralytic poliomyelitis was one of the most dramatic medical accomplishments of the decade. On April 12, 1955, upon recommendation of the Public Health Service, the Secretary of HEW licensed six manufacturers to produce the vaccine. Later that year, through its Communicable Disease Center, PHS helped the States distribute the vaccine, continually studying vaccine performance and evaluating its effectiveness.
In 1955, Saint Elizabeths Hospital observed its centennial by marking a century of progress in treatment of the mentally ill.
On July 1, 1955, civil defense responsibilities were delegated to the Department, including control of hazards to health and training.