Democrats are demanding a briefing from the Trump administration next week and urging an inspector general investigation after a whistleblower working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel reportedly alleging that more than a dozen employees were sent to receive the first Americans repatriated from Wuhan, China, without proper training or protective gear for new coronavirus infection control.
In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal and Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., asked the secretary for a “complete, immediate response to the serious concerns that have been raised about potentially dangerous management of the coronavirus.”
The Democrats noted that they were “alarmed to learn from a whistleblower” that HHS allegedly deployed human services workers, including staff from the U.S. Repatriation Program within the committee’s jurisdiction “to interact with Americans evacuated because of coronavirus outbreaks.”
“In particular, we would like a response to the allegations that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) used human services staff without proper training or equipment to interact directly with individuals exposed to coronavirus in quarantined areas, and the possibility that management decisions at HHS could have contributed to the spread of the virus within the United States,” Neal and Gomez wrote.
ABC News has not reviewed the complaint, and lawyers representing the whistleblower have refused to provide it. However, Ari Wilkenfeld, one of the whistleblower’s attorneys, told ABC News that the article by The Washington Post accurately describes the allegations laid out in the complaint.
The Oversight Subcommittee of Ways and Means reviewed the complaint, and told ABC News there’s too much identifying information in it to release it publicly, and the committee is working to protect the identity of the whistleblower.
“The whistleblower alleges that staff were sent into quarantined areas ‘without personal protective equipment, training, or experience in managing public health emergencies, safety protocols, and the potential danger to both themselves and members of the public they came into contact with,” the letter to Azar states.
The lawmakers also said they were “deeply troubled” that HHS “seems to have ignored valid public health concerns” and by reports that the department “immediately retaliated against a whistleblower instead of taking action to protect its staff and the public from being exposed to a potentially fatal virus.”
According to the letter, which appeared to quote the whistleblower complaint, when HHS staff raised safety concerns, they were “admonished for ‘decreasing staff morale,’ accused of not being team players, and had their mental health and emotional stability questioned.”
The letter raises the point that the potentially-exposed HHS employees “have subsequently been interacting with the public, including taking commercial air flights and returning home to their families, without being tested for the new coronavirus or taking other precautions.”
“We do not have any information on whether these staff are being monitored for exposure to the virus, or whether HHS continues to put staff and the public at risk through inappropriate actions relating to quarantined individuals who may have coronavirus,” Neal and Gomez noted.
You can read the rest of John Parksinson’s article at ABCnews.com