WASHINGTON – A whistleblower is accusing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of a “failure to protect its employees” responsible for responding to the coronavirus outbreak, according to the attorney representing the person making the allegation.
Federal health workers who received Americans quarantined for possible exposure to the coronavirus weren’t given proper equipment or training, the Washington Post and New York Times reported, citing a complaint filed with the Office of Special Counsel. The papers identified the whistleblower as a senior HHS official who is seeking protection because she alleges she was improperly reassigned after raising concerns.
The workers were reportedly dispatched to an air base in California to help process Americans returning from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
“We are hopeful that Congress and the OSC will investigate this case in a timely and comprehensive manner,” the whistleblower’s lawyer, Ari Wilkenfeld, said in a statement. “This matter concerns HHS’s response to the coronavirus, and its failure to protect its employees and potentially the public. The retaliatory efforts to intimidate and silence our client must be opposed.”
Caitlin Oakley, an HHS spokeswoman, said in a statement that the department is “evaluating the complaint” and that “we take all whistleblower complaints very seriously and are providing the complainant all appropriate protections under the Whistle-Blower Protection Act.”
A Trump administration official testifying at a congressional hearing disputed the idea that workers weren’t given the necessary training and equipment.
“Every precaution has been taken,” William Walters, executive director and managing director for operational medicine in the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services, said at a congressional hearing. “I can say unequivocally that everyone involved with those evacuations was appropriately equipped and trained.”
He was questioned by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia and former CIA officer. “Finding out that the U.S. government might have put its own personal in harm’s way is deeply concerning to me,” she said.
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