Top White House adviser ‘bullied and demeaned staff,’ investigation finds
US President Joe Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, bullied and demeaned dozens of White House staffers since joining the administration, according to audio recordings from an internal investigation first reported by Politico.
The two-month investigation found “credible evidence” that Lander, who is director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), was “bullying” to staff members, including OSTP general counsel Rachel Wallace.
The investigation also found numerous instances of female staffers complaining about Lander speaking “disrespectfully” to them, especially in front of colleagues.
“The investigation found credible evidence of instances of multiple women having complained to other staff about negative interactions with Dr. Lander, where he spoke to them in a demeaning or abrasive way in front of other staff,” Christian Peele, the White House’s deputy director of management and administration for personnel, reportedly said in an audio recording outlining the investigation’s findings.
According to Rachel Wallace, Lander “retaliated against staff” – even claiming he demoted her – when they spoke up about problems, and he would allegedly take to “calling them names, disparaging them, embarrassing them in front of their peers, laughing at them, shunning them, taking away their duties, and replacing them or driving them out of the agency.”
She added that numerous women who have worked with the man “have been left in tears, traumatized, and feeling vulnerable and isolated.” The investigation concluded he had violated the White House’s ‘Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy,’ though Peele said in a recording that no gender bias was found.
Lander sent an email on Friday to staffers, reportedly after learning about Politico’s reporting. The official apologized for his behavior and said he had not “lived up to” his responsibility to “set a respectful tone for our community.” He promised regular forums to discuss employee and employer relationships going forward.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed an investigation had been conducted and said senior officials had directly spoken to Lander about his behavior. A number of “corrective actions” were required of Lander, “which the White House will monitor for compliance, moving forward,” she added.
Biden promised on the day of his inauguration to have a no-nonsense policy when it came to a toxic work environment in his administration, promising to fire anyone “on the spot” if he found they “treat another colleague with disrespect” or “talk down to someone.”
Lander is currently scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Health and Human Services biomedical research subcommittee on Tuesday to speak on an unrelated matter. He is also the leader of the ‘Cancer Moonshot’ initiative, which is aimed at lowering cancer deaths in the US.