Only days after former BARDA chief Rick Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging retaliation by the Trump administration, the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel has recommended his temporary reinstatement, the New York Times reports.
The agency found "reasonable grounds to believe" HHS officials were retaliating against Bright when they re-assigned him to a new public-private partnership focused on COVID-19 testing, according to the newspaper, which cites a statement from Bright's lawyers.
As director of HHS' BARDA unit, Bright had been handling critical COVID-19 drug, vaccine and diagnostic partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies. After he was transferred to the new outfit last month, he claimed the move was in response to his early efforts to raise alarm about the impending pandemic—even as HHS officials sought to downplay the risk.
Bright also tried to combat the administration's backing hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 wonder therapy without the data to support its claims, the complaint said. After he decided to corroborate a reporter's research about the medicine, officials removed him from his post based on the suspicion he was the story source, his complaint said.
Earlier this week, an HHS spokeswoman said the agency is "deeply disappointed" that Bright "has not shown up to work" in his new role. He was was transferred last month to a new public-private partnership called ACTIV under "a bold plan to accelerate the development and deployment of novel point-of-care testing platforms.” There, he was "entrusted to spend upwards of $1 billion to advance that effort," the spokeswoman said.
OSC recommended a 45-day stay to Bright's removal so it can investigate. But the agency's recommendation isn't binding, the New York Times points out, and the administration isn't required to comply.