Healthcare

Whistleblower scientist settles complaint over Trump COVID-19 response

A former leading government scientist who says he was ousted from his job by the Trump administration has settled his whistleblower complaint against the federal government.

Rick Bright led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) until he was removed in April 2020.

Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging the Trump administration prioritized politics above science, and claimed his efforts to push back on the use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus contributed to his removal.

According to the complaint, Bright pressed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about the threat of the virus and the urgent need to act, but “encountered indifference which then developed into hostility from HHS leadership.”

While Bright was pressing HHS officials to provide necessary resources to begin vaccine, drug and diagnostic development to combat COVID-19, he alleged former HHS Secretary Alex Azar was instead focused on downplaying the threat of the virus. 

After being removed as head of BARDA, Bright was reassigned to a much narrower role at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop COVID-19 treatments. He subsequently filed an updated complaint, accusing top HHS officials of trying to discredit him and prevent him from being successful in the new role.

According to his attorney Debra Katz, Bright’s employment claims have been settled but the investigation into his underlying claim of serious government wrongdoing is ongoing. 

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

HHS under the previous administration denied any wrongdoing. The Hill has reached out to the agency for comment.

In a statement, Katz’s office said Bright “has been compensated to the fullest extent allowed by the law. He will receive back pay, and compensatory damages for the distress caused by the President and his administration’s vicious campaign to discredit him as a ‘creep’ and a ‘disgruntled employee.'”

Bright resigned from NIH in October. Following his departure from the Trump administration, he served on President Biden’s transition team as a member of the COVID-19 Task Force.  

He now works with the Rockefeller Foundation, working to develop a pandemic prevention institute that will respond to emerging disease threats.

“I am grateful to have resolved my employment claims so I can focus all of my attention on my lifelong career goal: containing global outbreaks and preventing pandemics to ensure the world never again suffers the consequences we have seen over the past 18 months,” Bright said in a statement.

Tags BARDA Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic coronavirus pandemic response COVID-19 treatments Joe Biden Rick Bright Whistleblower

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