ONC Staff Profile: Athena Curtiss – Budget as Public Health

Athena Curtiss | January 23, 2023

As the team lead for budget formulation, Athena Curtiss works in the office of the chief operating officer, financial and human capital division, which is responsible for the formulation and execution of ONC’s budget.

Tell us about some of the projects or initiatives that you lead.

My primary project is drafting ONC’s President’s Budget Request. This document is a part of the budget request HHS and ultimately the president submits to Congress for consideration and input into the following fiscal year’s appropriation.

This is an annual process and includes a variety of internal steps within ONC, HHS, and the Office of Management and Budget. My primary role within ONC’s process includes drafting the document, aggregating ONC’s performance information, and helping ONC leadership express our goals and mission to Congress.

My work enables the president to fulfill his congressional requirement to propose a plan for running the government. The budget is essential to ONC’s work and is the foundation for ONC to achieve its mission.

ONC’s President’s Budget documents are publicly available on HealthIT.gov.

What led you to your career here at ONC?

My journey to a career at ONC occurred mostly because of my Pathways Internship at ONC in the summer of 2017. I was between my first and second years of graduate school while working on my Master of Public Health in Health Management and Policy. I was very fortunate to receive a job offer before I graduated in April 2018 as my now-current position had just become available! I started at ONC in July of 2018.

While my pursuits in graduate school had certainly prepared me well for my position at ONC, my role feels like the perfect culmination of my degrees and experience. Public health has underscored much of my pursuits as an adult. I was a business major in undergrad and was also a peer health advocate, president of Sexual Health Awareness Group, and founder of the Mind, Body, Spirit House.

Between undergraduate and graduate school, I worked in medical records at an ambulatory surgery center. My primary role was getting patient information from separate systems into our electronic health record. I remember being surprised that a human was required for this important, yet monotonous, task and even more so that sending faxes was integral to the process as well. My job was to make up for the lack of interoperability between systems, so how perfect is it that I am now working for the federal organization that is working on this exact thing?!

What are some skills or strengths that you contribute to your work at ONC?

My strong commitment to public health and public good. Also, I am very well suited to my position as it requires writing, math, the ability to think at a high level while also being able to get down into the data and the numbers!

What is something you’ve accomplished at ONC that you’re most proud of, and why?

How the president’s budget has evolved and changed as my skills have progressed. It continues to evolve in a way that even better represents ONC to Congress and supports ONC’s mission. I’m to the point where I am mastering the process and am now starting to think about innovation and process improvement.

What would you say is the best or most interesting part of working for ONC?

The best part of working for ONC is the amount of creativity and control I have over my work as well as the overall alignment of ONC’s mission with my values.

One of the key things that made me want to come back to ONC after my internship was the level of trust my colleagues showed me, and the independence I was able to have even as an intern.

How would you characterize ONC’s success?

Health information seamlessly flowing between providers, patients, and caregivers to improve health, equity, and empowerment. Where health information can be used by both the patient and their providers together to take part in shared decision making to establish the best care for them.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on and how it fits into ONC’s mission.

I think I spoke to that in some of the previous questions.  So I’ll keep it short: Budget is health policy, and money, ultimately, enables ONC to fulfill its mission.

What are the core values of ONC that are important to you?

ONC is mission-oriented, and our vision of “better health enabled by data” strongly resonates with me on a personal level. I am so grateful to be a part of an organization that demonstrates this from top to bottom!