Biden’s top science advisor resigns amid bullying claims

by mcardinal

Chris Lieberman, FISM News


Dr. Eric Lander resigned from his post as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on Monday after allegations that he bullied colleagues and created a toxic work environment.

“I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them,” wrote Lander in his resignation letter. “But 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.”

Politico was the first to report on Monday that a two-month internal White House investigation had discovered that Lander had violated the White House’s workplace policy by bullying and demeaning subordinates, including the OSTP’s then-general counsel Rachel Wallace. Wallace told Politico that Lander, “retaliated against staff for speaking out and asking questions by calling them names, disparaging them, embarrassing them in front of their peers, laughing at them, shunning them, taking away their duties, and replacing them or driving them out of the agency. Numerous women have been left in tears, traumatized, and feeling vulnerable and isolated.”

When the story first broke on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the White House would be stepping in to make changes at OSTP and monitor Lander’s behavior to make sure this did not happen again. However, internal pressure quickly made keeping Lander untenable, leading to his resignation Monday evening.

“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,” said Psaki in a statement. “He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years ahead.” Lander, whose role as OSTP director was elevated to a cabinet-level position for the first time under the Biden administration, is the first member of Biden’s cabinet to leave the White House.

The president had previously announced a zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullying in his administration, telling a group of appointees on Inauguration Day, “If you are 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.” Last February, deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo resigned after reports that he had harassed a female reporter.

Before serving in the White House, Lander, a geneticist, molecular biologist, and mathematician, was best known for his work on the Human Genome Project. However, he had also developed a reputation for being disrespectful to women and downplaying their accomplishments in the scientific field. His nomination for OSTP director prompted the organization 500 Women Scientists to write an editorial in Scientific American urging Biden not to appoint him to the post, and to name a to the position woman instead. “We must recognize that Lander has a reputation among some scientists for being controversial, and colleagues have criticized him for his ‘ego without end,’” the article said.

Lander’s history of sexism was brought up by both Democrats and Republicans at his confirmation hearing, as was his past contact with Jeffrey Epstein. Lander was the last member of Biden’s cabinet to be confirmed.

With Lander out, Biden will be in search of a new director for the OSTP, a position that is crucial for him to accomplish his climate and energy goals.