A U.S. government whistleblower ousted from a leading role in battling COVID-19 alleged Thursday that the Trump administration has intensified its campaign to punish him for revealing shortcomings in the U.S. response.
Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, said in an amended complaint filed with a federal watchdog agency that he has been relegated to a lesser role in his new assignment at the National Institutes of Health, unable to lend his full expertise to the battle against COVID-19.
The Office of Special Counsel, an agency that investigates complaints from government whistleblowers, previously found “reasonable grounds” that Bright was removed from his post after trying to warn the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services early this year that the U.S. was unprepared for the coronavirus outbreak.
Bright is a flu and infectious disease expert with 10 years at the biomedical agency, which is known as BARDA. His particular focus was on vaccine development. At the NIH, he was supposed to be working on coronavirus testing, but he is now alleging that he has been blocked.
President Donald Trump has dismissed him as “a disgruntled guy.”
WATCH | Bright warns U.S. about pandemic response:
The agency that Bright had led is a unit of HHS that focuses on countermeasures to infectious diseases and bioterrorism. He had received a job performance review of outstanding before he was summarily transferred in April, with his agency email cut off without warning.
In his initial complaint filed last month, Bright said the final straw for his bosses appeared to come when he resisted efforts to flood the New York area with hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug once touted by Trump as a “game changer” for COVID-19. Bright said he argued successfully for limiting approved use of the drug to certain settings, such as hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.
Trump has since revealed that he has taken hydroxycholoroquine, apparently to try to prevent infection after several White House staffers tested positive.
The Food and Drug Administration recently revoked its emergency use approval for the drug, citing its known heart risks and unproven benefits against the novel coronavirus.