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Biden Promised To Fire ‘On The Spot’ Disrespectful Staff. His Top Science Adviser Was Just Outed For ‘Demeaning’ His Team

President Joe Biden’s top science adviser routinely bullied and demeaned staff in front of their peers, a White House investigation into his conduct found.

The White House conducted a two-month investigation into Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director Eric Lander over complaints that Lander would habitually demean and publicly upbraid staff. The investigation concluded in January with a briefing on its conclusions by White House deputy director of management and administration for personnel Christian Peele.

In the briefing, Peele said that the investigation turned up “credible evidence of disrespectful interactions with staff by Dr. Lander and OSTP leadership” and that Lander spoke “harshly and disrespectfully to colleagues in front of other colleagues,” according to a recording of the briefing obtained by Politico.

“The investigation found credible evidence of instances of multiple women having complained to other staff about negative interactions with Dr. Lander, where he spoke to them in a demeaning or abrasive way in front of other staff,” Peele said.

Lander apologized in an email to staff on Friday after the findings of the White House investigation leaked to the press. Lander apologized for his conduct, admitted to violating White House policies in his dealings with staff, and promised workplace reforms and new procedures and trainings.

“I am deeply sorry for my conduct. I especially want to apologize to those of you who I treated poorly or were present at the time,” Lander wrote. “It’s my responsibility to set a respectful tone for our community. It’s clear that I have not lived up to this responsibility. I have spoken to colleagues within OSTP in a disrespectful or demeaning way.”

In one of his first public addresses after taking office, Biden promised to fire “on the spot” anyone caught “treat[ing] another colleague with disrespect” or “talk[ing] down to someone.” No such action has been taken against Lander.

The White House and OSTP acknowledged Lander violations of White House policies in separate statements. The White House said Lander met with other top White House officials over the actions. OSTP said that “corrective action was taken.”

According to the recording of Peele, Lander will be forced to conduct collaborative meetings with his staff and will be subject to review between 30 and 45 days to ensure he is abiding by White House rules.

Lander’s position as head of OSTP was elevated to a cabinet-level position for the first time under Biden. The administration’s top science adviser has taken on a leading role in shaping Biden’s response to COVID-19, and the president chose Lander last week to head up the administration’s Cancer Moonshot to make significant progress into cancer research.

Lander’s appointment was controversial to some who pointed to his reputation as being someone who is difficult to work with. As Stat News reported:

His appointment in January 2021 was met with a mixed reaction: While many celebrated his central role in the Human Genome Project and the work he has pioneered since co-founding the Broad Institute, others warned his selection failed to account for his past missteps or the need to diversify the the upper echelons of science.

In particular, detractors cited a handful of incidents from Lander’s past: His toast of James Watson, who has expressed racist and misogynistic sentiments; his perceived slight of two women researchers who helped develop the gene-editing technology CRISPR; and his broader penchant for soaking up the scientific limelight and the funding that accompanies it.

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