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Biden's top science adviser resigned following complaints about his work behavior

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

President Biden's top science adviser, Eric Lander, has resigned after private complaints about his workplace behavior became public. Lander wasn't fired, and that has the White House facing questions about its policies. Here's NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: On his first day in office, President Biden stood inside the state dining room with a warning for his senior staff.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: 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 - on the spot - no ifs, ands or buts.

ORDOÑEZ: But a few weeks later, a spokesman who used abusive language was suspended, not fired. At first, the White House defended its actions. Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

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JEN PSAKI: He had a heated conversation about a story related to his personal life. I'm not saying that's acceptable, but I just want to be clear that it was not about an issue related to the White House.

ORDOÑEZ: After a public outcry, the spokesman resigned. Now this week, another outcry coming from the staff of Eric Lander, a Cabinet-level official.

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PSAKI: No one is suggesting that this behavior is acceptable - quite the opposite.

ORDOÑEZ: An explosive report from Politico revealed Lander's staff said he bullied and demeaned them. An internal investigation came to the same conclusion. But he was not fired. Yesterday, Psaki said he was being given a chance to change his ways.

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PSAKI: Dr. Lander is expected to comply, and he will be monitored for compliance because having a safe workplace environment is imperative to the president.

ORDOÑEZ: But last night, Lander resigned. In his letter, he said he could no longer be effective. Psaki said the president didn't ask for his resignation, but he did accept it.

KATIE DUNN TENPAS: President Biden really had no choice.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Katie Dunn Tenpas, who studies presidential personnel at the University of Virginia's Miller Center.

DUNN TENPAS: I think just generally in the aftermath of the Trump administration, this was an important feature of the new Biden administration. And you need to remain consistent.

ORDOÑEZ: But David Seide of the Government Accountability Project says it's not enough. He represents Rachel Wallace, a lawyer who worked for Lander at the White House. She was demoted after raising concerns.

DAVID SEIDE: Director Landers (ph) is now vacating the scene. In the scheme of things, that's a good thing. But it's not the only thing because director Landers (ph) had help.

ORDOÑEZ: Seide says Wallace deserves to get her job back, to be made whole. And he says Lander's enablers also need to be held accountable.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.