An internal review found that White House science adviser Eric Lander violated workplace policy and bullied staff members, but he will remain on the job after receiving counseling.
A two-month White House investigation last year found “credible evidence” that Lander, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and a science adviser to President Joe Biden, had “disrespectful interactions” with staff members and spoke to them “harshly” in front of other co-workers, Politico reported. Biden had previously warned that his appointees would be fired “on the spot” if they disrespected their co-workers. The investigation found several instances in which Lander’s behavior with staff members violated the White House’s “Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy.”
At least 14 current and former OSTP employees described a toxic work environment while working with Lander. Nine of the employees said Lander would sometimes humiliate people in front of others and yelled at them, Politico reported.
Christian Peele, the White House’s deputy director of management and administration for personnel, said the investigation found that several women complained to other staff members about negative interactions with Lander in which he spoke to them in a “demeaning or abrasive way” in front of co-workers, according to Politico.
Rachel Wallace, then Lander’s general counsel, filed a complaint last September against “Lander and other OSTP leadership.” She told Politico Lander would retaliate against staff for speaking out or asking questions. Wallace also said Lander would call them names, laugh at them, replace them or embarrassed them in front of others.
“Numerous women have been left in tears, traumatized and feeling vulnerable and isolated,” Wallace added.
Lander issued an apology to staffers this past Friday, acknowledging his behavior. “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 wrote, according to Politico.
“It’s my responsibility to set a respectful tone for our community. It’s clear that I have not lived up to this responsibility. I have spoken to colleagues within OSTP in a disrespectful or demeaning way,” he added.
A White House spokesman told Politico “a full and thorough investigation was conducted” and “White House leadership met with Dr. Lander to discuss the seriousness of the matter and the president’s expectation that all staff interactions be conducted with respect.”
Following the investigation, the White House’s personnel and counsel’s offices determined that Lander’s offenses were “very, very serious and are outside the expectations of all staff within the [executive office of the president],” Peele said in an audio recording obtained by Politico.
Peele said Lander must now participate in collaborative meetings such as “brown bag” sessions with subordinates. Plus, additional training for workplace policy will be required for all staff members. Peele added her office would check back in 30 days and 45 days to see if Lander’s behavior has changed, Politico reported.