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Top White House science adviser announces resignation after reports of bullying

Eric Lander, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and presidential science adviser, speaks prior to his confirmation on Jan. 16, 2021.
Alex Wong
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Eric Lander, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and presidential science adviser, speaks prior to his confirmation on Jan. 16, 2021.

Updated February 7, 2022 at 9:58 PM ET

Eric Lander, a science adviser to President Biden and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has submitted a letter of resignation.

The Monday evening decision came hours after Politico reported that an internal White House investigation concluded that Lander bullied and demeaned his subordinates and violated the White House's workplace policy.

In the letter, Lander writes: "I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them."

He adds:

"I have sought to push myself and my colleagues to reach our shared goals — including at times challenging and criticizing.

"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.

"That was never my intention. Nonetheless, it is my fault and my responsibility."

In a statement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki wrote: "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. He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years ahead."

Earlier on Monday, the White House had said Lander would remain in his role with a corrective course of action, despite the White House's own findings — and despite a no-tolerance pledge from Biden at the outset his administration about workplace behavior.

"If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I will fire you on the spot. No ifs, ands or buts," Biden said to a group of political appointees on Inauguration Day.

Lander is well-known in the scientific community. The Princeton-educated Rhodes scholar and MacArthur fellow founded the Broad Institute, which researches genomic medicine.

Politico had previously reported on White House frustrations with Lander's leadership at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Lander's Senate confirmation to the Cabinet-level position had been held up by concerns about past meetings between Lander and fellow scientists with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender. He was then unanimously confirmed.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.