Watchdog Office Recommends Reinstatement of Health Official Who Filed Whistleblower Complaint

May 9, 2020 Updated: May 11, 2020

A watchdog office that received a whistleblower complaint from a doctor removed as head of a health office said he should be reinstated while officials investigate, according to the doctor’s lawyers.

Dr. Rick Bright headed the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an office that’s part of the Department of Health of Human Services (HHS). Bright says the removal as head of BARDA stems from his attempts to push back against politically-motivated promotion of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, two malaria drugs being used to treat COVID-19 patients.

Bright himself requested emergency use authorization for chloroquine, enabling the federal government to distribute donated doses to hospitals, HHS told The Epoch Times. Food and Drug Administration Chief Scientist Denise Hinton said in a letter that Bright requested authorization for both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

Bright, who filed a whistleblower complaint on Tuesday, should be reinstated while his complaint is investigated, the Office of Special Counsel said, according to Bright’s lawyers. Dozens of such stays were negotiated with agencies in fiscal year 2019, according to the office (pdf).

Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, two lawyers with Democratic political connections, said they were told on Thursday that there was ample evidence suggesting Bright’s removal was made in retaliation.

The office told the lawyers it would be contacting HHS to request a hold on the action for 45 days. The office “has made a threshold determination that HHS violated the Whistleblower Protection Act by removing Dr. Bright from his position because he made protected disclosures in the best interest of the American public,” Katz and Banks said in a statement.

Bright’s lawyers called on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to let Bright return to his position.

A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel told The Epoch Times: “OSC cannot comment on or confirm the status of open investigations.”

Alex Azar
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 28, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement: “This is a personnel matter that is currently under review. However, HHS strongly disagrees with the allegations and characterizations in the complaint from Dr. Bright.”

HHS transferred Barda to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to work on testing.

Bright is scheduled to testify before House Committee Subcommittee on Health on May 14.

President Donald Trump told reporters this week that Bright “seems like a disgruntled employee that’s trying to help the Democrats win an election.”

“He certainly seemed to have a very well-packaged deal. And he’s got the same lawyers that some other well-known people had,” Trump added. Katz and Banks represented Christine Blasey Ford, a professor who nearly derailed the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 after accusing him of sexual assault.

Bright told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he’s not disgruntled.

“I am frustrated at a lack of leadership. I am frustrated at a lack of urgency to get a head start on developing lifesaving tools for Americans. I’m frustrated at our inability to be heard as scientists. Those things frustrate me,” he said.

Bright said moving him to NIH “didn’t make sense.”

“To take me out of our organization focused on drugs and vaccines and diagnostics in the middle of a pandemic, of the worst public health crisis that our country’s faced in a century, and decapitate the BARDA organization. To move me over to a very small focused project of any scale, of any level importance is not responsible,” he said.

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