President Joe Biden’s top science adviser resigned on Monday after the results of an internal White House investigation into his treatment of staff leaked to the press.
Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director Eric Lander stepped down from his cabinet-level position Tuesday evening after he was found to have habitually demeaned and bullied staff. Lander apologized for his behavior on Friday and resigned Monday evening following media reports on the results of the White House investigation into his conduct.
“It has been a great honor to serve as your Science Advisor and to work with the extraordinarily talented career and non-career colleagues at the Office of Science and Technology Policy,” Lander wrote in his resignation letter. “I am writing to submit my resignation, to be effective no later than February 18 in order to permit an orderly transfer.”
“I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them,” he added. “[I]t is clear that things I said, and the way I said them, crossed the line at times into being disrespectful and demeaning, to both men and women.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden had accepted Lander’s resignation.
“The President accepted Dr. Eric Lander’s resignation letter this evening, with gratitude for his work at OSTP on the pandemic, the cancer moonshot, climate change, and other key priorities,” Psaki said, according to Politico. “He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years ahead.”
The White House conducted a two-month investigation into Landers conduct and delivered the results in an internal briefing by White House deputy director of management and administration for personnel Christian Peele. A recording of the briefing was obtained by Politico.
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 the recording.
“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.
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.”
On Monday, the White House and OSTP acknowledged Lander’s 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.”
Lander’s position as head of OSTP was elevated to a Cabinet-level position for the first time under Biden. The former top science adviser was tapped to take a leading role in 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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