Rick Bright, the ousted director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), has filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, noting that he was demoted after refusing to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients.
According to NPR, Bright, a “high-ranking federal scientist focused on vaccine development and a deputy assistant secretary with the Department of Health and Human Services,” was transferred to the mailroom or some other “less impactful position” at the National Institutes of Health because he wouldn’t do Trump’s bidding.
Bright wanted the government to spend money to find “safe and scientifically vetted solutions” to address the coronavirus crisis and not waste money on “drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” according to the complaint viewed by NPR.
The complaint alleges a range of government wrongdoing by Dr. Robert Kadlec, “the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, and others. Bright was supervised by Kadlec, who in turn reported to HHS Secretary Alex Azar,” NPR reports.
Bright claims that he was cautioning Trump administration officials as far back as January to prepare for the coronavirus but they weren’t trying to hear him. Instead of preparing for the possible impact of an outbreak, Trump just removed Bright from his position in BARDA as retaliation, the complaint claims.
According to the complaint, relations between Bright and Kadlec had been strained since 2018 or so, when Bright began “raising repeated objections to the outsized role Dr. Kadlec allowed industry consultants to play in securing contracts that Dr. Bright and other scientists and subject matter experts determined were not meritorious.”
“Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, Dr. Bright became even more alarmed about the pressure that Dr. Kadlec and other government officials were exerting on BARDA to invest in drugs, vaccines, and other technologies without proper scientific vetting or that lacked scientific merit,” the complaint continues. “Dr. Bright objected to these efforts and made clear that BARDA would only invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic in safe and scientifically vetted solutions and it would not succumb to the pressure of politics or cronyism.”
The complaint alleges that Bright made repeated efforts to get the U.S. government to make adequate preparations for the coronavirus but was stymied by political appointees leading the HHS, including Azar.
Because Trump was all in on hydroxychloroquine, Bright says that he shared nonclassified emails between HHS officials that “discussed the drug’s potential toxicity and demonstrated the political pressure to rush these drugs from Pakistan and India to American households” with a reporter so that the public could learn the risks associated with the drug.
NPR reports that within days of the article being published, Azar and Kadlec removed him from his post, suspecting that he was the reporter’s source. And here’s the funny part, NIH Director Francis Collins said last week that Bright is a senior adviser within NIH but he doesn’t really have a job as his role is “under development” and he’s not received a paycheck since April 20, the day he was reassigned.
The Department of Health and Human Services has a different account of events.
“Dr. Bright was transferred to NIH to work on diagnostics testing — critical to combatting COVID-19 — where he has been entrusted to spend upwards of $1 billion to advance that effort,” HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said in a statement to NPR. “We are deeply disappointed that he has not shown up to work on behalf of the American people and lead on this critical endeavor.”
But here’s what may be working in Bright’s favor in the court of public opinion: We don’t know if Bright is a liar; we can’t say the same about the Trump administration.