Democratic senator calls for investigation into reassignment of key HHS official
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Wednesday called for an investigation into the removal of the former director of the federal office that will be at the forefront of developing a COVID-19 cure.
Markey’s push for an investigation came after Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), said he was forced out of the position for prioritizing science over promoting unproven treatments President Trump had repeatedly pushed as potential cures without evidence.
Markey is calling on the Department of Health and Human Services’s (HHS) inspector general to open an investigation into Bright’s reassignment to a lower-level position at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Markey said Bright’s “abrupt reassignment” raises questions over whether the Trump administration retaliated against Bright for “advocating for science and against Trump’s misinformation.”
“Listening to and relying on … our public health, medical, and scientific experts is more critical than it has ever been. If Donald Trump doesn’t like scientific evidence because it doesn’t support his view of the world or financial interests, he cannot be permitted to simply silence the scientists,” Markey said in a statement.
“As the nation battles the coronavirus pandemic, science, not politics, must be our lodestar,” he added.
A spokesperson for the HHS inspector general’s office said they can’t comment specifically on the “Bright matter,” and said that the Office of Special Counsel also has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of whistleblower retaliation.
“The whistleblower determines with which agency to file. In matters in which a federal employee has filed a retaliation complaint simultaneously with the OIG and OSC, the OIG may defer to OSC to investigate the complaint,” the spokesperson added.
Bright’s departure to the NIH was reported Tuesday.
He had been the director of BARDA, a small agency within the HHS created in 2006 to help invest in drug and vaccine development projects for pandemic diseases such as Ebola and Zika.
The most recent stimulus bill gives the agency an additional $1 billion to research, develop, manufacture and purchase COVID-19-related materials.
Bright said in a statement Wednesday that he believes his transfer was in response to his insistence that the government invest the money allocated to address COVID-19 into “safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.”
Bright said he limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two drugs Trump has pushed as potential cures that Bright said “lack scientific merit.”
Trump has called the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine a potential “game-changer” despite limited anecdotal evidence that it works as a COVID-19 treatment.