Feb 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden science adviser apologizes for "demeaning" behavior toward staff

Picture of Eric Lander

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Eric Lander, President Biden's science adviser, has apologized for speaking to White House Office of Science and Technology Policy staff in "a disrespectful or demeaning way," according to a note he sent to OSTP staff this weekend.

The big picture: An investigation found that Lander violated the White House's workplace policy and "corrective action" was taken, according to a OSTP spokesperson.

  • Politico first reported the conclusions from the investigation.

What they're saying: "A full and thorough investigation was conducted pursuant to the Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy. White House leadership met with Dr. Lander, a member of the president's Cabinet, to discuss the seriousness of the matter and the President’s expectation that all staff interactions be conducted with respect," a White House spokesperson told Axios.

  • "We take this incredibly seriously, and we are taking swift action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again."
  • Biden "put in place a first-of-its-kind Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy to maintain a healthy work environment, and has been clear that conduct that is inconsistent with that policy will not be tolerated, and will be addressed appropriately."
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki later Monday said that after the investigation, "senior White House officials conveyed directly to Dr. Lander that his behavior was inappropriate and the corrective actions that were needed, which the White House will monitor for compliance moving forward."

Details: The investigation was conducted last year following a workplace complaint filed under the White House's workplace policy, according to an OSTP spokesperson.

  • It found credible evidence of violations of the policy, and the White House says corrective action was taken consistent with the investigation's findings.

Between the lines: Investigation recordings and documents obtained by Politico revealed that Lander bullied his former general counsel Rachel Wallace.

  • There were also multiple instances of women complaining about Lander's behavior to other staff, Politico reports. The White House's investigation did not find any credible evidence of gender-based discrimination, according to an OSTP spokesperson.

Flashback: A day after his inauguration, Biden warned his staffers and appointees to treat everyone with respect, or else “I will fire you on the spot,” emphasizing that they are government officials working for the people.

  • "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. "On the spot. No ifs or buts."

State of play: This weekend, Lander sent a note to OSTP staff apologizing for his behavior. "It’s my responsibility to set a respectful tone for our community. It’s clear that I have not lived up to this responsibility. ... It is never acceptable for me to speak that way," the note, obtained by Axios, 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," he added.
  • "I also realize that my conduct reflects poorly on this Administration, and interferes with our work. I deeply regret that," Lander said in the note.
  • "OSTP is an amazing organization with amazing people taking on big, ambitious things. You deserve better, and I will do better. You have my absolute commitment."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with White House press secretary Psaki's comments.

Go deeper