NIH Reverses Course, Rehires Whistleblower

Reversing course, the government's premier health research agency has reinstated a medical safety expert who was fired after raising allegations of scientific misconduct and sexual harassment in federal AIDS research, his lawyer said Friday.

The National Institutes of Health's reinstatement of Dr. Jonathan Fishbein settles a two-year battle that prompted both congressional and federal investigations. It also drew attention to an entire class of researchers and safety experts the government initially claimed didn't deserve whistleblower protections.

Fishbein alleged he was fired for raising safety concerns in government AIDS research. NIH said he was fired for poor performance even though he had been recommended for a cash performance bonus just weeks before he was notified of his termination.

He was one of a few NIH whistleblowers whose plight was highlighted in Associated Press stories over the last year examining allegations of safety problems with federal AIDS research in the United States and Africa, sexual harassment of female NIH workers and the use of foster children to test AIDS drugs.

Fishbein was formally reinstated to a position of special assistant to the deputy director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, but he is unlikely to ever return directly to that office.

Fishbein is to look for a new assignment in government, but has been returned to the federal payroll, according to government officials

Fishbein's lawyer confirmed the rehiring.

"I can confirm that effective Dec. 12, 2005 that Jonathan Fishbein is reinstated and is now special assistant to the deputy director of NIAID," attorney Stephen Kohn said.

"The medical community owes a debt to Dr. Fishbein for his integrity and courageous efforts to ensure that humans are protected when they participate in drug trials," he said.

Numerous members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, urged NIH not to fire Fishbein, saying he had raised important issues about the way patients are protected in government experiments.