Landers’ resignation constitutes the highest profile departure from the president’s team to date (his office has Cabinet-level status) and a black eye for Biden, who had pledged early on that he would have a zero-tolerance policy when it came to bullying.
“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,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years ahead.”
POLITICO was first to report that the White House had launched a two month investigation into Lander that found “credible evidence” that he bullied his then-general counsel, Rachel Wallace. The investigation also concluded that there was “credible evidence of disrespectful interactions with staff by Dr. Lander and OSTP leadership,” according to a recording of a January White House briefing on the investigation’s findings. In addition,14 current and former OSTP staffers shared descriptions of a toxic work environment under Lander where they say Lander frequently bullied, cut off and dismissed subordinates. Several shared specific accusations that he belittled and demeaned women subordinates in particular.
On Monday, Psaki told reporters the administration was implementing changes to assure a better workplace culture at OSTP and that they’d be monitoring Lander’s conduct more closely.
“The president has been crystal clear with all of us about his high expectations of how he and his staff should be creating a respectful work environment,” Psaki said.
By Monday evening, Landers’ chief of staff Marc Aidinoff sent an all-staff email acknowledging that the “behavior described” was “not acceptable” and the office would communicate further with employees about steps being taken to “move forward as a community.”
But in the face of growing criticism over its decision to keep Lander in the job, the White House gradually realized that the situation was untenable, said one person with knowledge of the matter, who characterized the resignation as a mutual decision.
Later that evening, the White House informed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) that Lander would no longer be testifying before her Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health regarding biomedical research, which had been scheduled for Tuesday. The hearing is focused on a Biden proposal to establish a $6.5 billion health agency dubbed the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. The widely popular proposal has stalled amid budget battles and sparring over the president’s Build Back Better initiative.
Lander was also dropped as a speaker before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he was to appear for the non-profit group’s annual meeting next week.
A luminary in the scientific community, Lander won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant at the age 30, served on the board of the cancer organization Biden spearheaded, and earned numerous accolades for his work mapping the human genome. But he also was a controversial figure, owing to a reputation for having a nasty streak and not giving proper credit to women in his field.
With reporting by Adam Cancryn and Sarah Owermohle