Warren, Colleagues Call for Senate HELP Committee Hearing with HHS Whistleblower Rick Bright
Trump Administration Retaliated Against Former BARDA Director After He Sounded Alarm About Federal COVID-19 Response
"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"
Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, along with HELP Committee members Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Robert P. Casey (D-Penn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), sent 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 scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee later 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 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."
Last week, Senator Warren and HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking about how the agency is tracking the use, safety, and effectiveness of potential COVID-19 medical products to protect and ensure the health and safety of Americans during the pandemic. Senator Warren had previously written to FDA urging the agency to address reports of shortages of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, antimalarial drugs that President Trump has repeatedly and prematurely promoted as treatments for COVID-19.
At a HELP Committee hearing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, confirmed to Senator Warren that the U.S. does not have COVID-19 completely under control and that without adequate countermeasures to the virus there will be problems.
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