After more than 36 years of government service, Dr. Wanda K. Jones is retiring effective January 13, 2024. Her career is defined by a dedication to service through safeguarding public health and advocating for the people HHS serves.
Dr. Jones began her career in graduate school, working from the laboratory bench at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on training and quality assurance for HIV testing domestically and internationally. She left the laboratory bench to become the Associate Director for Science of the Office of HIV/AIDS at the CDC, the first non-physician to hold that role.
Even with her increased focus on HIV/AIDS related policy, Dr. Jones maintained visibility with laboratory testing and blood safety developments. She was part of a team that developed an evidence-based HIV testing model that allowed same-day results and included wraparound services for those whose initial tests were positive, versus the established model of waiting 2 weeks for results. In her policy role, she heard from HIV/AIDS advocates who challenged the CDC’s case definition and risk assessments that led to some 80% of AIDS cases in women categorized as ‘no identified risk.’ She obtained the first $5 million committed by the CDC to examine risks unique or disproportionate to women, which resulted in changes in the surveillance case definition and an improved approach for disability determinations by the Social Security Administration. Dr. Jones moved into the Office of the Director to establish the CDC’s Office of Women’s Health, focusing on disaggregation of data by sex and gender, then applying those data to program interventions across the agency. She led efforts to respond to the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, and in 1996 led a team that developed the first-ever national estimates on genital cutting among girls and women. She advocated for people living with disabilities using evidence-based research to strengthen public health services and programming.
Her work on behalf of women led Dr. Jones to accept the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health in the HHS Office on Women’s Health (OWH). Under her leadership, OWH more than tripled in size. During her tenure, Dr. Jones led development and launch of the National Women’s Health Information Center (followed by a similar site for girls and parents) to help women and girls make decisions about their health. She launched a bone-health campaign for teen girls and families; worked with the Pan American Health Organization to improve hemispheric data on violence against women; developed models for comprehensive, evidence-based care for women that extended into community health centers and rural areas; served as a program reviewer for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief; and served as the Designated Federal Official for the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee.
In 2009, Dr. Jones was appointed the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health (PDASH) within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). In that capacity, she sought to improve administrative processes critical to supporting OASH policy and program offices. She led coordination of administration priorities in areas ranging from behavioral health to environmental justice, among others. She established a collaboration between the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke and two dozen non-governmental organizations to produce Epilepsy Across the Spectrum. Promoting Health and Understanding with the [then] Institute of Medicine. She also led HHS administrative review of denied claims by nuclear weapons workers filed under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.
In 2016, Dr. Jones moved to the [then] Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. There, she developed public access policies for data from non-classified research, drafted an updated HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan, and updated a draft regulation and procedures for HHS authorities under the Defense Production Act.
Dr. Jones returned to OASH in 2017 to work with the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), the Office of Human Research Protections, and the President’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. By 2018 she was designated Acting Director of ORI. Her first tasks were to increase staffing, stabilize budget, and identify ways to improve efficiency. An early victory was to implement secure file transfer capacity, which ended the era of processing boxes upon boxes – or external digital media - filled with reports and evidence from research misconduct investigations.
In 2021 Dr. Jones received a Special Act Award for her accomplishments at ORI. In 2022 she received the Hubert H. Humphrey Award for Service to America Award. In spring of 2023, when Sheila Garrity was appointed Director of ORI, Dr. Jones continued her federal service as Deputy Director and provided key support for the leadership transition. Over the past eight months, she has generously shared her years of accumulated wisdom acquired by working across multiple federal agencies.
Throughout her career, Dr. Jones says, she has always strived to “serve with both excellence and humor.” Her distinctive combination of rigor and levity has not been lost on her colleagues, coworkers, and collaborators, who admire her expertise while enjoying her playful Wanda-isms. When asked to reflect on the biggest challenges she faced while serving in government, Dr. Jones stated: “One needs to be comfortable with change and to always look toward the horizon for opportunities to better serve people.“ One of her favorite quotations, in fact, is Louis Pasteur’s wise advice: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
So what’s next for Dr. Jones, now that she’s departing ORI and federal service? She and her husband, recently back from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos Islands, are avid travelers. They have visited nearly every continent and are now planning a trip to Australia. She is eager to tackle her ever-growing pile of unread books and partially completed sewing, photographic, and gardening projects.
Dr. Jones’ absence will be felt at ORI and across the HHS family. We wish her the best as she embarks on this new, rewarding chapter in her life.