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White House announces new temporary leadership in key agency after resignation of top science adviser

<i>Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>The White House announced new temporary leadership at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
The White House announced new temporary leadership at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

By Donald Judd, CNN

The White House announced new temporary leadership at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, just one week after Biden’s top science adviser, Dr. Eric Lander, resigned following an investigation into his office behavior.

“Today, President Joe Biden announced that Dr. Alondra Nelson will perform the duties of director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Dr. Francis Collins will perform the duties of Science Advisor to the President and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology until permanent leadership is nominated and confirmed,” the White House said in a statement.

“These appointments will allow OSTP and the President’s Science and Technology agenda to move seamlessly forward under proven leadership.”

Lander resigned a day after reports surfaced that he had been the subject of an internal investigation late last year, after a complaint was filed under the Executive Office of the President’s Safe and Respectful Workplace Policy.

The investigation, first reported by Politico, found “credible evidence” of violations of the policy and “corrective action was taken consistent with those findings,” a spokesperson for OSTP previously told CNN. It did not find credible evidence of gender-based discrimination, the spokesperson noted.

Nelson currently serves on the OSTP as deputy director for science and society and Collins formerly served as director of the national institutes of health for 12 years under three presidents.

Collins’ return to the administration comes two months after departing his post as NIH director, where he spent the final two years of his tenure leading the charge against the Covid-19 pandemic. In an exit interview with CBS News, he acknowledged he faced political pressure from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to endorse unproven Covid-19 remedies such as hydroxychloroquine and to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“In the selections of Dr. Alondra Nelson and Dr. Francis Collins, President Biden has doubled down on science,” the White House said Wednesday. “The selections are responsive to the dual importance of a strong OSTP that can drive science and technology solutions to our greatest challenges — and the very specific attention the President wants to give to the creation of a new ARPA-H research and discovery agency, the building of support for a Cancer Moonshot 2.0, the search for a new head of NIH, and the broad advisory work of PCAST.”

The administration drew fire from critics after the internal investigation into Lander’s behavior was reported, with some pointing out Biden’s decision not to fire his chief science adviser ran afoul of an early pledge to fire staffers “on the spot” if he heard they treated others with disrespect.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Lander said he’d depart the office on February 18 “in order to permit an orderly transfer.”

“We have assembled the most amazing set of people at OSTP, and we have together set out the most ambitious goals that this agency has ever attempted. I have sought to push myself and my colleagues to reach our shared goals — including at times challenging and criticizing,” Lander wrote. “But it is clear that things I said, and the way I said them, crossed the line at times into being disrespectful and demeaning, to both men and women. That was never my intention.”

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