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White House Investigation: Biden Science Adviser Traumatized Subordinates

Eric Lander 'seems to know he's protected' by president, staffer says

Director of Science and Technology Policy Eric Lander / Getty Images
• February 7, 2022 1:45 pm

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An internal investigation found that President Joe Biden's top science adviser, Eric Lander, violated White House workplace policy by demeaning and taunting subordinates, particularly women, Politico reported Monday.

The two-month investigation, which concluded in January, found that Lander, who has close ties to the Biden family and senior officials, "bullied, cut off, and dismissed subordinates" in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. His actions left numerous female staffers "in tears, traumatized, and feeling vulnerable and isolated," former general counsel Rachel Wallace said.

Biden swore on Inauguration Day to fire "on the spot" any appointee who "treat[s] another colleague with disrespect" or "talk[s] down to someone."

"On the spot," the president said. "No ifs, ands, or buts."

Office of Science and Technology Policy staffers scoffed at the pledge, telling Politico that the president's words were "empty political rhetoric."

Wallace, a career civil servant who worked at the Office of Science and Technology Policy during both the Obama and Trump administrations, told Politico that Lander has "retaliated against staff for speaking out and asking questions," even "replacing them or driving them out of the agency." She said that she first filed a complaint about Lander with the Biden administration in September, for which Lander demoted her.

"Lander seems to know he's protected," one staffer said. "The most terrifying part about him is the open and brazen way he conducts his abuse."

Lander served on the board of the Biden Cancer Initiative, a charity set up by the president and his family, and is leading Biden's anti-cancer program, which the president announced on Wednesday. He is also a confidant of Deputy Chief of Staff Bruce Reed.

Chief of Staff Ron Klain in January identified Lander as the point man on variant-specific boosters for COVID-19. And Biden has tasked Lander with coming up with the United States' response to possible future pandemics.

The Senate delayed confirming Lander last spring after reports broke that he had meetings with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. While Republicans and some Democrats, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), expressed concerns with Lander's record, the scientist was ultimately confirmed by voice vote.

Lander apologized Friday for speaking to colleagues "in a disrespectful or demeaning way." But the apology "did not come close to addressing the full extent of his egregious behavior," Wallace said.

Lander is not going to be fired. Instead, the administration will discipline the director by requiring that he "hold more collaborative meetings with subordinates, such as ‘brown bag sessions.'"

Published under: Biden Administration