Rick Bright, deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response for Health and Human Services (HHS), listens during a House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., March 8, 2018.
Toya Sarno Jordan | Bloomberg via Getty Images
A government watchdog has found that there is evidence that federal scientist Rick Bright was ousted as head of a health agency for pushing back against a controversial coronavirus drug treatment embraced by President Donald Trump, Bright’s lawyers said Friday.
The watchdog, the Office of Special Counsel, will ask the Health and Human Services Department to stay his removal from the job, Bright’s lawyers said.
Bright was booted last month as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a unit of HHS, after what he said was his resistance to embracing expansion of the use of hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug touted by Trump.
Bright has claimed in a whistleblower complaint filed this week to the Office of Special Counsel that he was transferred to a job in the National Institutes of Health “without warning or explanation” over his refusal to increase access to the drug.
The OSC is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, which, among other things, investigates alleged violations of the federal Whistleblower Protection Act.
Bright’s attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, in a statement said that on Thursday afternoon they “were notified by the Office of Special Counsel … that it had determined there were ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that Dr. Bright had been subjected to a prohibited personnel practice – i.e., that there was sufficient evidence to believe that his involuntary removal as” BARDA director “was retaliatory.”
“OSC further advised that in light of this determination, it would contact the Department of Health and Human Services … to request that it stay Dr. Bright’s removal as Director of BARDA for 45 days to allow OSC sufficient time to complete its investigation of Bright’s allegations,” the lawyers said.
A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel declined to comment. “OSC cannot comment on or confirm the status of open investigations,” the spokesman said.
Katz and Banks said they “strongly” urge HHS Secretary Alex Azar “to agree to this request” to stay Bright’s transfer.
“Dr. Bright should not be denied the right to have his complaint investigated fully and fairly before he is formally transferred to NIH — a move that will harm not only him, but the country as well,” the lawyers said.
“This country is in an unprecedented health crisis and needs the expertise of Dr. Bright to lead the nation’s efforts to combat COVID-19,” the attorneys said. “We hope the Secretary will grant the Special Counsel’s request and allow Dr. Bright, one of nation’s leading vaccine scientists, to return to his position leading BARDA and serving his country.”
Trump, when asked about the finding on Friday, said, “I don’t know. To me he looks like a disgruntled employee. I don’t know who he is.”
“But to me, he’s a disgruntled employee. And if people are that unhappy they shouldn’t work,” Trump said.
“If you’re unhappy with a company you shouldn’t work there, go out and get something else, but to me he’s a disgruntled guy, and I hadn’t heard great things about him.”
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