Whistleblower says Trump administration continues to retaliate against him

A whistleblower says the Trump administration continues to retaliate against him, stating in an updated complaint on Thursday that top officials are actively trying to discredit him and prevent him from being successful in a new role.

Rick Bright, who led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) until he was demoted in late April, said in an amended complaint he has been "deliberately impeded" in his role at the National Institutes of Health, which "does not remotely utilize his expertise or experience."

According to the updated complaint, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told HHS employees to refrain from doing anything that would help Bright be successful in his new role, and HHS employees were warned that Azar was “on the warpath” in response to Bright’s allegations.

ADVERTISEMENT

Bright's initial complaint alleged his early warnings about the virus were met with indifference at the Department of Health and Human Services, and that his efforts to push back on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus contributed to his removal.

The Office of Special Counsel, a watchdog agency that investigates complaints from government whistleblowers, previously found “reasonable grounds” that the administration retaliated against Bright.

At NIH, Bright was supposed to be working to accelerate the development and deployment of new coronavirus testing platforms. He is a global expert in vaccines, and spent 10 years at BARDA, which is at the forefront of public-private partnerships to develop a treatment for COVID-19.  

But according to his amended complaint, Bright "is excluded from HHS’s work on vaccines, including the vaccine programs that he initiated in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic response. He is cut off from all vaccine work, cut off from all therapeutic work, and has a very limited role in the diagnostic work."

Bright previously oversaw 200 or more projects at BARDA, but according to his updated complaint, he now has responsibility for just five to eight projects, involving diagnostic tests already approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

As BARDA director, Bright supervised a staff of more than 250 people. In his current role, Bright has a part-time contracted employee to assist with scheduling and is working to borrow staff detailed to other parts of HHS and other federal agencies to assist with his program. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Bright's updated complaint also details what he describes as a "retaliatory media campaign" from top officials, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE, to discredit him. 

Trump has dismissed him as “a disgruntled guy” unfit for government service. 

A top HHS spokesman dismissed the amended complaint as "misleading." In a tweet, HHS spokesman Michael Caputo said the complaint "is filled with one-sided arguments and misinformation that have been completely debunked."

Updated at 5:45 p.m.