Federal Public Health Workforce Development: An Evidence-Based Approach for Defining Competencies

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This study reports the use of exploratory factor analysis to describe essential skills and knowledge for an important segment of the domestic public health workforce—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) project officers—using an evidence-based approach to competency development and validation.


A multicomponent survey was conducted. Exploratory factor analysis was used to examine the underlying domains and relationships between competency domains and key behaviors. The Cronbach α coefficient determined the reliability of the overall scale and identified factors.

Setting and Participants:

All domestic (US state, tribe, local, and territorial) grantees who received funding from the CDC during fiscal year 2011 to implement nonresearch prevention or intervention programs were invited to participate in a Web-based questionnaire.

Main Outcome Measure(s):

A total of 34 key behaviors representing knowledge, skills, and abilities, grouped in 7 domains—communication, grant administration and management, public health applied science and knowledge, program planning and development, program management, program monitoring and improvement, and organizational consultation—were examined.


There were 795 responses (58% response rate). A total of 6 factors were identified with loadings of 0.40 or more for all 34 behavioral items. The Cronbach α coefficient was 0.95 overall and ranged between 0.73 and 0.91 for the factors.


This study provides empirical evidence for the construct validity of 6 competencies and 34 key behaviors important for CDC project officers and serves as an important first step to evidence-driven workforce development efforts in public health.

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