“Sidelining science has already cost lives, imperiled the safety of our loved ones, compromised our ability to safely reopen our businesses, schools, and places of worship, and endangered the health of our democracy itself,” the officials wrote.
The statement’s signatories include Luciana Borio, acting chief scientist under Obama and Trump who left the administration in 2019; Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration; Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Bush; Peter Lurie, associate commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Obama and Trump; and Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency administrator under Bush.
While the officials do not criticize specific administration policies, they call for a number of actions to guide the response. Among those is that research and data inform production and allocation decisions for personal protective equipment and ventilators, and the release of data on new cases, deaths and hospitalizations that would be easy for outside experts to use and analyze.
Even as cases have surged, the administration has not significantly changed its strategy in fighting the outbreak. Trump himself has regularly flouted his own administration’s guidelines by holding indoor political events where most attendees do not wear masks and refusing to wear a mask in public. Last week, he reiterated his belief that the virus would simply “disappear” on its own despite rising deaths and nearly 3 million confirmed infections in the United States.
The president’s top aides have also put forth a garbled message by contradicting each other and downplaying recent rises in infections.
The statement also calls on Congress to conduct more rigorous oversight of the pandemic response and “any attempts at political [interference] in scientific decision-making.” It states that inspectors general must be able to do their jobs without fear of retaliation, that data collection methods from federal agencies must be more transparent and easily accessible to outside experts and that federal employees who speak about interference in science must be better protected.
In May, Trump replaced the top watchdog at HHS after her office released a report on the shortages in testing and personal protective gear at hospitals.
Rick Bright, a former top vaccine official, filed a whistleblower complaint after he was reassigned in April stating that he was reassigned to a less prestigious role because he tried to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency” and raised health concerns over an unproven antimalarial drug repeatedly pushed by President Trump as a possible cure for coronavirus.
The administration has also fought over how to count deaths from coronavirus, a process overseen by the CDC. Some key White House aides have expressed frustration that the CDC has included likely deaths from coronavirus in its tally — which is standard public health practice — arguing that the process is inflating death statistics.
The officials also appear to express concern over Trump’s decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization by arguing that “scientists must be free to coordinate with their peers around the world.”
“To the federal employees working on the front lines of this pandemic, preparing our country for any resurgence of covid-19, we say: keep speaking out. We support you,” the officials write. “You stand as a bulwark against the spread of misinformation and the diversion of public health policies and programs to suit political goals.”