HHS Secretary Dismisses Whistleblower Complaints About Coronavirus Response, Says 'Everything He Talked About Was Done'

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar dismissed Dr. Rick Bright's testimony to a House committee on Thursday, saying that his concerns about the coronavirus outbreak were shared by the entire administration and that his complaints were resolved.

Bright, who filed a whistleblower complaint in May following his removal as director of the HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency, told the committee he expressed concerns to HHS officials about the "critical shortage" in necessary supplies, such as N95 masks and respirators, and the need for a "Manhattan Project" for vaccine development. But he said his concerns were "dismissed" and he was "cut out of high-level meetings" about the outbreak.

Speaking to reporters before boarding Marine One at the White House, Azar said "everything [Bright] talked about was done." Respirators were procured under President Donald Trump's directive, the health secretary said, and a Manhattan Project was initiated for a vaccine, a therapeutic treatment and diagnostics.

Azar added that Bright wasn't alone in having concerns about the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, as well as the need for a therapeutic and vaccine.

"What he was saying is what every single member of this administration and the president was saying," Azar told reporters. "Every single thing this president was on the president achieved, and Dr. Bright was part of a team and was simply saying what everyone at the White House and the HHS was saying. Not one bit of difference."

whistleblower alex azar hhs coronavirus response
President Donald Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speak to reporters on May 14. Azar has dismissed claims made in a whistleblower's complaint about the administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Drew Angerer/Getty

In February, when virus cases in the U.S. were below 60, the Trump administration requested $2.5 billion in funding for a domestic response to the outbreak. Officials criticized the amount for being inadequate to develop a vaccine, fund quarantine measures and secure enough PPE.

In February, Azar testified during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing that there were 30 million N95 respirators in the strategic national stockpile and that about 300 million were needed for health care workers. Trump reached a deal with 3M for the importation of 166.5 million respirator masks in April and signed the Defense Production Act to help secure supplies for health care workers.

During his testimony Thursday, Bright criticized the administration for not ramping up production earlier. He said officials ignored his warnings in January and as a result "lives were lost."

"We were already behind the ball," he testified. "That was our last window of opportunity to turn on production to save the lives of our health care workers, and we didn't act."

Azar also criticized Bright for "not showing up for work" to be part of the team launching "Operation Warp Speed" and compared him to someone who "was in a choir and is now trying to say he was a soloist."

Newsweek reached out to Bright's attorneys for comment but did not receive a response before publication.

Bright said he pushed back on administration officials promoting hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a treatment when there wasn't any proof of their efficacy. Trump was among the officials advocating for the treatment, and in his whistleblower complaint, Bright said his dissension from other officials' messaging contributed to his termination.

Azar, in refuting Bright's claims, pointed out that Bright asked the Food and Drug Administration to issue an Emergency Use Authorization for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus. "His allegations do not hold water," Azar added.