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Top Biden science adviser resignation is first Cabinet-level departure

Eric Lander
Posted at 2:17 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 14:17:15-05

President Joe Biden's top science adviser Eric Lander resigned late on Monday after the White House confirmed that an internal investigation found credible evidence that he mistreated his staff.

It marks the first Cabinet-level departure of the Biden administration. Press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden accepted Dr. Lander's resignation Monday with "gratitude for his work" on the pandemic, the Cancer Moonshot, climate change "and other key priorities."

The White House rebuked Lander over his treatment of his staff, but initially signaled he would be allowed to remain on the job, despite Biden's Inauguration Day assertion that he would fire anyone, "on the spot," who shows disrespect to others.

Lander apologized late last week after he was accused of addressing White House Office of Science and Technology Policy staff in a "demeaning way." Dr. Lander sent an email to OSTP staff late on Friday apologizing for his conduct after a White House investigation uncovered evidence he violated the White House policy for respect in the workplace.

As Politico first reported, the message to staff said, “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 was over around 140 people and according to an investigation, 14 current and former staffers in the Office of Science and Technology Policy reported similar aspects of a toxic work environment, Axios reported.

An internal review in 2021, after a workplace complaint was filed, showed evidence that Lander treated staff disrespectfully and bullied them. A White House review of the issue was able to find evidence that Dr. Lander violated "Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy." The Biden administration gave Lander counseling.

On Jan 20, 2021, newly-elected President Joe Biden said, standing before his appointees remotely, "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. On the spot. No ifs, ands or buts. Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity."

As Axios noted, while there were multiple complaints from women regarding Lander's behavior towards staff, a White House investigation did not find evidence credible evidence of gender-based discrimination, an OSTP spokesperson said.