Eric Lander, a Jewish-American mathematician and geneticist who served as a top science adviser to US President Joe Biden, resigned on Monday after allegations came to light that he had bullied and demeaned staffers.
Lander, who serves as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, was the focus of an internal review after subordinates complained about his treatment of them. The review was first reported by Politico earlier on Monday and confirmed by White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
"I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them," Lander said in the resignation letter submitted to Biden.
Noting that he sought to push himself and colleagues by at times "challenging and criticizing," he acknowledged that "things I said, and the way I said them, crossed the line at times into being disrespectful and demeaning."
The allegations against Lander struck a nerve given Biden came into office pledging to take a hard line on any disrespect among members of his administration and turn the page from the derisive rhetoric of his predecessor Donald Trump.
"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... no ifs, ands or buts," Biden told political appointees during a swearing-in ceremony.
"Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity," he said at the time.
When asked about the allegations against Lander earlier on Monday, Psaki condemned Lander's behavior.
"In addition to the full, thorough investigation, it was conveyed through meetings to senior White House officials directly that his behavior was inappropriate," she said.
"Nothing about his behavior is acceptable to anyone here - not at all," she added.
On Monday evening, Psaki put out a statement saying Biden had accepted Lander's resignation letter "with gratitude for his work," citing his role in fighting cancer, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.
Lander said his resignation should be effective no later than February 18.