Dr. Bright: I was pressured to let politics, cronyism drive decisions over science
Dr. Rick Bright’s complaint says Health and Human Services leadership was slow to react and pushed contracts “based on political connections.”
By Geoff Bennett and Dareh Gregorian
A top Health and Human Services official who says he was shoved out of a key coronavirus response job for pushing back on “efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections” filed a whistleblower complaint Tuesday charging “an abuse of authority or gross mismanagement” at the agency.
In his complaint, Dr. Rick Bright, who until last month was the deputy assistant HHS secretary for preparedness and response and the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, described a chaotic response to the virus at HHS.
The chaos was fueled largely by “pressure from HHS leadership to ignore scientific merit and expert recommendations and instead to award lucrative contracts based on political connections and cronyism,” the complaint says.
Bright filed the complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. NBC News has reached out to an agency spokesperson for comment.
After the complaint was filed, Bright’s lawyers said he had agreed to testify before a House committee on May 14.
The 89-page whistleblower complaint says he was transferred from BARDA “without warning or explanation” over his refusal to embrace hydroxychloroquine — the anti-malarial drug embraced and promoted by President Donald Trump as a potential coronavirus remedy.
“I insisted on scientifically vetted proposals, and I pushed for a more aggressive agency response to COVID-19. My supervisor became furious when Congress appropriated billions of dollars directly to my office, and when I spoke directly to members of Congress,” the complaint says.
Bright identified his supervisor as Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response. Kadlec — who reports to HHS Secretary Alex Azar — is responsible for coordinating the coronavirus response from both HHS and the federal government.
Bright says he “repeatedly clashed with Dr. Kadlec and other HHS leaders about the outsized role played by John Clerici, an industry consultant to pharmaceutical companies with a longstanding connection to Dr. Kadlec, in the award of government contracts.”
“Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, Dr. Bright became even more alarmed about the pressure that Dr. Kadlec and other government officials were exerting on BARDA to invest in drugs, vaccines, and other technologies without proper scientific vetting or that lacked scientific merit,” the complaint says.