Report Alleges Bullying by Top White House Scientific Advisor

OTSP Director Eric Lander_WUBR

Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Eric Lander/Courtesy of WBUR

As the White House continues to lead the country through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden administration’s scientific leadership recently received a black eye due to reports that top scientific adviser Eric Lander has bullied and demeaned subordinates in violation of workplace policy.

According to Politico, an internal White House investigation confirmed the alleged abuses from Lander, the president and founding director of the Broad Institute, a biomedical research organization founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is focused on genomic medicine. Lander was one of the principal researchers on the Human Genome Project, and currently serves as the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). In its report, Politico said that a two-month investigation discovered “credible evidence” that Lander bullied his then-general counsel, Rachel Wallace.

Citing a recorded briefing of the investigation’s findings, Politico reported that the internal White House investigation found there was “credible evidence of disrespectful interactions with staff by Dr. Lander and OSTP leadership.” Additionally, the report noted that there is evidence Lander also spoke “harshly and disrespectfully to colleagues in front of other colleagues.” Not only is there evidence that Lander bullied Wallace, but other women on staff complained about negative interactions with Lander. He was accused of speaking to them in a “demeaning or abrasive way” in front of colleagues and OTSP staff, Politico said.

The OTSP, established in 1976, plays a key role as an adviser to the president and other Executive Branch leaders on matters of “scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of the economy, national security, homeland security, health, foreign relations and the environment,” according to the OTSP website.

As Politico pointed out, the report places President Biden in a tough spot after he laid down a hard line against bullying following his inauguration. When his administration began in January 2021, Biden said he expected honesty and decency out of his staff. He touted the importance of public service and demanded the best behavior out of the Executive Branch.

“I’m not joking when I say this. If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot,” Biden said as he spoke to new administration appointees in 2021.

Politico reported that the White House leadership has met with Lander to discuss the report. What steps that have been taken, if any beyond that closed-door meeting, have not been reported at this time.

Although Lander did not respond to Politico’s request for a comment on the investigation, the news agency noted that the OTSP head did issue an apology to his staff in an email late Friday.

“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 said in the email, according to the report. “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.”

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