The Office of Special Counsel, which protects whistle-blowers, had “made a threshold determination” that the Department of Health and Human Services “violated the Whistleblower Protection Act by removing Dr. Bright from his position because he made protected disclosures in the best interest of the American public.”
The nonpartisan federal investigative office has found “reasonable grounds to believe” that the Trump administration was retaliating against a whistle-blower, Dr. Rick Bright, when he was ousted from a government research agency combating the coronavirus, and said he should be reinstated for 45 days while it investigates.
The finding comes just days after the lawyers filed a whistle-blower complaint saying that Dr. Bright’s removal last month as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority was intended as payback. They said Dr. Bright, who was reassigned to a narrower job at the National Institutes for Health, had tried to expose “cronyism” and corruption at the Department of Health and Human Services while pressing for a more robust virus response and opposing the stockpiling of anti-malaria drugs championed by President Trump.
It will now be up to the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, to decide whether to let the special counsel investigate and send Dr. Bright back to B.A.R.D.A.
If Mr. Azar refuses, Dr. Bright’s complaint would ordinarily be sent to the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent quasi-federal agency charged with deciding claims of whistle-blower reprisal. But the Republican Senate refuses to confirm Trump’s nominees to the board to leave it with no members and therefore no power.
“Dr. Bright should not be denied the right to have his complaint investigated fully and fairly before he is formally transferred to N.I.H. — a move that will harm not only him, but the country as well,” the lawyers’ statement 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.”