White House science adviser resigns over bullying probe

FILE – Dr. Eric Lander speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Jan. 16, 2021. Lander has resigned after the White House confirmed that an internal investigation found credible evidence that he mistreated his staff. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

(The Hill) — Eric Lander, President Joe Biden’s science adviser, resigned on Monday evening after an internal investigation uncovered evidence that he bullied subordinates.

In his resignation letter to Biden, Lander, who heads the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) within the White House, took responsibility for his actions and said he was “devastated” for causing hurt to colleagues.

“It 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. That was never my intention,” Lander wrote in the letter. “Nonetheless, it is my fault and my responsibility. I will take this lesson forward.”  

Lander said his resignation would be effective Feb. 18 to allow for an “orderly transfer.” The role is subject to Senate confirmation. It was not immediately clear who would take over for Lander when he departs.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden 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 in a statement. “He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years ahead.”

Politico first reported Monday morning that an internal investigation found that Lander bullied and behaved in a demeaning way toward subordinates in violation of the White House’s own policies.

Lander sent an email to employees apologizing for his behavior on Friday, reportedly as aides became aware of Politico’s reporting on the probe.

Confronted with questions about the damaging revelations, Psaki told reporters during a briefing on Monday afternoon that Lander’s behavior was inappropriate and that he was told by White House aides to change his behavior, but she gave no indication of plans to remove him from the role.  

“Nothing about his behavior is acceptable to anyone here, at all,” Psaki said.  

The revelations attracted particular scrutiny because Biden told staff on the day of his inauguration last year that he would fire them “on the spot” if they treat other colleagues with disrespect.  

“I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot,” Biden said at the time.  

As the director of OSTP, Lander was a top science adviser to Biden and had a hand in the COVID-19 pandemic response. He was also involved in the Cancer Moonshot Initiative that Biden relaunched just last week.  


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