White House science adviser Eric Lander resigned last night following an internal investigation that revealed the prominent scientist had mistreated his subordinates.
In a letter to President Biden, Lander expressed remorse that his rude behavior hurt his past and former colleagues. He added that “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,” added Lander, who also helmed the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Yesterday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed POLITICO reporting that an internal investigation had found Lander, a Harvard and MIT mathematician and geneticist, was demeaning toward his colleagues and was facing disciplinary action. A former colleague had filed a formal complaint, and others went to the press (Greenwire, Feb. 7).
News of the misconduct reverberated through Washington last night, with lawmakers raising concerns or calling for him to step down altogether.
“Bullying or demeaning subordinates is never acceptable,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a statement. “If Lander’s behavior was disrespectful, then he should not continue to serve in the administration.”
Lander had been scheduled to testify at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee this morning on the administration’s signature biomedical research initiative. The hearing of the subcommittee will still happen, but only with outside experts testifying, according to a source familiar.
Earlier in the evening, House Science, Space, and Technology Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and ranking member Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) sent a letter to Biden calling the news “extremely troubling.” The pair requested a copy of the investigation report.
“The behavior described in the Politico article and acknowledged by OSTP Director Lander is harmful to the workforce of OSTP as they attempt to carry out their responsibilities,” they wrote.
On Friday, Lander sent an apology email to his colleagues vowing to improve workplace culture, including with regular check-ins and forums. An OSTP spokesperson shared the email with reporters and noted other “corrective actions” were underway.
Lander’s tenure, lasting less than a year, was birthed in controversy. His nomination to the position was stalled last year over questions about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the accused sex trafficker who committed suicide in 2019.
Lander said he only had two brief encounters with Epstein and was unaware of the sex trafficking activities, which he called “abhorrent.” Lander was also accused of workplace sexism (E&E Daily, April 30, 2021).
Republicans and others noted that, on his first day in office, President Biden promised to immediately fire anyone who contributed to a hostile workplace environment.