Administration

Psaki grilled over science adviser’s behavior toward colleagues

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday faced a barrage of questions about why President Biden’s top science adviser has not been fired after an investigation found he bullied subordinates, a violation of Biden’s own pledge upon his inauguration to fire staff who disrespect their colleagues.

Politico reported earlier Monday that Eric Lander, a member of Biden’s Cabinet and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, had repeatedly bullied and verbally abused his staff. The news outlet found 14 current and former staffers who worked under Lander this year described a toxic work environment.

Multiple reporters during Monday’s press briefing recited Biden’s own comments after he took office in which he told a virtual gathering of administration employees that they would be fired “on the spot, no ifs, ands or buts,” if he found out they disrespected their colleagues.

Psaki said Lander’s behavior was unacceptable. But she did not say he would be removed from his job, despite Biden’s own comments.

“The president has crystal clear expectations with all of us about how we are to treat our colleagues, treat people who work for us, and that is what he expects for people across the building,” Psaki said.

“It is because of those comments he made early on, in part, that we put in place a safe and respectful workplace policy that was the mechanism for which this thorough investigation went forward,” she continued. “And it is based on that thorough investigation, from that came the meeting that Dr. Lander had with senior White House officials where it was made clear what steps he was required to take and that we will be complying and watching for compliance with those steps. Our objective is to prevent any of this behavior happening again in the future.”

Lander apologized to his colleagues on Friday, writing in an email provided 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.”

The email apology reportedly came as Politico was completing an investigation into Lander’s conduct. 

“Nothing about his behavior is acceptable to anyone here, at all,” Psaki said at Monday’s briefing. “Quite the opposite. Let me be clear about that. But there is now a process in place that was not in place at the time to evaluate and determine what the steps should be taken in the event that any behavior like this occurs to prevent it from happening in the future.”

Monday’s back-and-forth was reminiscent of when former deputy press secretary T.J. Ducklo was disciplined for reportedly berating a Politico reporter over the phone but was not fired. Biden’s own comments were raised at the time, too, and Ducklo eventually resigned

Tags Eric Lander Jen Psaki Joe Biden

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
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