WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee joined U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), who led other HELP Committee members Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Robert P. Casey (D-Pa.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) in sending a letter to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) requesting that the Committee hold a hearing with whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright, former Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). The senators' letter comes after the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that Dr. Bright was improperly removed from his post after raising concerns about the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
"Dr. Bright's whistleblower complaint gives us little faith that BARDA-especially after Dr. Bright's ouster-or any other federal agency are currently free to operate in an unbiased manner," the senators wrote. "To gain insight into the operations of BARDA and HHS, and to assess the overall administration response to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the HELP Committee must be given the chance to pose questions to Dr. Bright, under oath, in an open hearing."
Last week, Dr. Bright, who is testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee today, filed a whistleblower complaint with the OSC in which he reported that, during his tenure as Director of BARDA, he witnessed how the Trump Administration, including top officials such as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, failed to respond to the emerging threat of COVID-19. According to the whistleblower report, Dr. Bright was removed from his post after repeatedly pressing HHS officials for resources necessary to begin development of COVID-19 medical countermeasures in early 2020, resisting HHS' push to promote hydroxychloroquine as a panacea for a COVID-19 treatment, and raising concerns about undue political influence on decision-making at HHS.
After reviewing the complaint, OSC concluded that Dr. Bright "was removed from his post last month for retaliatory reasons and plans to recommend the Department of Health and Human Services reinstate him while it investigates."
"We are deeply concerned by the degree to which political interference appears to be corrupting and slowing the administration's response to this health crisis, and by this report of retaliatory behavior against those who try to address these failures," the senators continued. "If the HELP Committee does not hold a hearing in which Dr. Bright gives testimony and responds to member questioning, it would be abdicating its duty to conduct oversight over the administration's response to the worst public health crisis in over a century, risking American lives, and delaying the economic recovery that cannot be fully complete until we resolve this public health crisis."
Full text of the letter can be viewed here.