© Reuters. Rick Bright, recently fired director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), can be seen in his official U.S. government portrait photo in Washington in 2017
By Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. government surveillance agency has recommended the temporary reinstatement of a whistleblower who claims to have been dismissed as director of a government research agency because of concerns about coronavirus preparation, his lawyers said on Friday.
The United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has "thresholded" the Trump administration to illegally remove disease expert Rick Bright for "providing proprietary information in the best interests of the American public," he said Bright's lawyers in the statement.
The OSC recommendation is not binding for the administration.
Bright's complaint could eventually go to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a tribunal that hears retaliation complaints from federal government employees.
This tribunal currently has an unprecedented backlog of claims as the Republican-dominated Senate has ignored Trump's candidate for his three-person leadership.
Bright was the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which was tasked with developing a vaccine against the coronavirus.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Health overseeing BARDA said Bright had been given a new role within the National Institutes of Health.
In a whistleblower complaint filed with OSC on Tuesday, Bright said he had warned of the virus in January and had encountered hostility from HHS secretary Alex Azar and other senior officials from the agency.
"To free myself from our organization, which is focusing on drugs, vaccines and diagnostics amid a pandemic, the worst public health crisis our country has faced in a century, and to decapitate the BARDA organization to to move to a very small organization. " A focused project of any size and importance is not responsible. It didn't make sense, "Bright said in an interview with CBS that aired on Friday.
Bright also said he was reassigned because he opposed efforts to promote hydroxychloroquine and the associated chloroquine as a cure for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Bright said in last month's statement that the US government advertised the drug as a "panacea" even though it "clearly has no scientific value."
Trump repeatedly referred to malaria medication as a "game changer" treatment for COVID-19 in his daily coronavirus briefings and encouraged people to try, although few studies suggest a potential benefit.
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley has denied Bright's account and said in a statement on Tuesday that he was transferred to a job where he was asked to spend around $ 1 billion on diagnostic test development.
"We are deeply disappointed that he did not appear to work for the American people and lead this critical endeavor," said Oakley.
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