First resignation of Biden’s cabinet: for mistreatment of staff, scientist leaves the White House

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, has resigned, hours after the White House confirmed an internal investigation found credible evidence that he mistreated his staff, marking the Biden administration’s first cabinet-level exit. .

An internal review last year, prompted by a workplace complaint, found evidence that Lander, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and a science adviser to Biden, was intimidating employees and treating them disrespectfully. The White House reprimanded Lander for his interactions with his staff, but initially signaled Monday that he would be allowed to remain in office, despite Biden’s Inauguration Day assertion that he expected “honesty and decency” from all officials. that they worked for his government and that he would fire anyone who shows disrespect to others “on the spot”.

But later Monday night, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had accepted Lander’s resignation with “appreciation for his work at OTSP on the pandemic, the Cancer Moonshot, climate change and other key priorities.”

Lander, in his resignation letter, said: “I am devastated that I caused harm to colleagues past and present by the way I spoke to them.”

“I believe that it is not possible to continue effectively in my role, and the work of this office is too important to impede it,” he added.

The White House said Biden did not request Lander’s resignation.

Earlier Monday, Psaki said senior government officials had met with Lander about his actions and his management of the office, but indicated he would be allowed to stay on the job and said the government was following a “process” for handling the charges. workplace complaints.

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“Following the conclusion of the thorough investigation of these actions, senior White House officials directly communicated to Dr. Lander that his behavior was inappropriate and the corrective actions needed, which the White House will monitor for compliance in the future. future,” he said.

Psaki added: “The president has been very clear with all of us about his high expectations for how he and his staff should create a respectful work environment.”

The White House said that Lander and OSTP will be required to take certain corrective actions as part of the review. It also said the review found “no credible evidence” of gender discrimination and that the reassignment of the staff member who made the original complaint was “deemed appropriate”.

Lander issued an apology to employees in his office on Friday, acknowledging that “I have spoken to colleagues within OSTP in a disrespectful or demeaning manner.”

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“I deeply regret my conduct,” he added. “I want to especially apologize to those of you who I mistreated or who were present at the time.”

The White House review was completed weeks ago but confirmed, and Lander apologized.

Biden’s “Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy” was instituted when he took office and was meant to serve as a foil to the often demeaning way former President Donald Trump and his aides treated each other and political enemies. .

Lander’s conduct and the White House’s initial decision to support him caused some consternation within the White House and among Biden allies and created an unnecessary distraction from Biden’s agenda.

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Lander came to believe by Monday night that he was in an untenable position and considered resigning no later than February 18, “to allow for an orderly transfer.”

There are five deputy directors, four women and one man, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Kei Koizumi is the deputy policy director. The former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco, is the deputy for climate science. Sally Benson is the energy deputy. Carrie Wolinetz is the deputy director of health and life sciences. Alondra Nelson is the deputy director of science and society.

The world’s largest general scientific society withdrew Lander’s invitation to speak at its annual meeting shortly before his resignation was announced. The executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sudip Parikh, said he did not know if that had anything to do with the resignation.

“I hope I have sent the right message about what is important,” Parikh told The Associated Press on Monday night. “The time to let these things go is over. Not just in science, but in workplaces across the United States.”

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“This is a government that has put much of its political capital into science and technology,” Parikh added. “It is a difficult role to fulfill. It is very possible and very likely that that person is a woman.”

Lander, whose position was elevated to cabinet rank by Biden, was featured prominently with the president last week when he relaunched his show “Cancer Moonshot” to marshal federal resources behind the research and treatment of cancer diseases.

The founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Lander is a mathematician and molecular biologist. He was the lead author of the first paper announcing the details of the human genome, the so-called “book of life.”

His confirmation of his role in the Biden administration was delayed for months as senators sought more information about meetings he had with the late Jeffrey Epstein, a disgraced financier who was accused of sex trafficking before his suicide. Lander was also criticized for downplaying the contributions of two Nobel Prize-winning female scientists.

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At her confirmation hearing last year, Lander apologized for a 2016 article she wrote that downplayed the work of female scientists. At the hearing, she also called Epstein “an abominable individual.”

Lander said he “underestimated the importance of these key advances” by biochemists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. The two subsequently received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Lander’s departure on the grounds of Biden’s respectful workplace politics echoed the February 2021 resignation of a White House deputy press secretary, TJ Ducklo, who was suspended and later resigned over threatening conversations with a reporter.

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First resignation of Biden’s cabinet: for mistreatment of staff, scientist leaves the White House