Feb 8, 2022 - Science

What Eric Lander's exit means for Biden's science agenda

An illustration showing Biden looking in rearview mirror with a globe hanging from it
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The resignation Monday night of White House science adviser Eric Lander means the administration is losing its highest-ranking climate science official.

Why it matters: Lander has turned the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) into a new power center within the government for climate and energy research and policy.

  • It's responsible for overseeing the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates climate research at 13 federal agencies and produces the National Climate Assessment, which examines the effects of climate change on the U.S. and comes out every four years.

Catch up fast: Lander, a prominent geneticist and molecular biologist, resigned after an investigation found that he violated the Biden administration's workplace policy, the White House confirmed.

The intrigue: The question now facing OSTP and the Biden administration more broadly is whether its ambitious science agenda will be delayed or knocked off course by Lander's behavior and any disruption associated with his departure.

Details: Biden is the first president to give the director of OSTP cabinet ranking, elevating its visibility and authority to the top tier of the federal government.

  • Although Lander was working on many issues, climate and energy were in his mandate from Biden since the outset.

Between the lines: Lander boosted OSTP's climate and energy work by bringing in top experts and setting up new, or renaming existing, divisions.

  • In addition to former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco's position as deputy director for climate and environment, Lander recently added Stanford University researcher Sally Benson to be OSTP's deputy director for energy and chief strategist for the energy transition.
  • Carnegie Mellon University energy expert Costa Samaras also took on an energy role.
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