Eric Lander, president Joe Biden’s scientific adviser, has resigned from his position after he was accused of bullying and demeaning members of staff earlier in claims that emerged earlier on Monday.
Mr Lander accepted that his words “caused hurt” in a resignation letter sent to the president.
“I am devastated that I caused hurt to past and present colleagues by the way in which I have spoken to them,” Mr Lander said, adding that he hoped for an orderly transfer of his responsibilities.
He said he had worked with the “most amazing set of people at OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy]”, and that “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 criticising,” Mr Lander said in his resignation letter.
He added: “But it is clear that the 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.”
“The President accepted Dr Eric Lander’s resignation letter this evening with gratitude for his work,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said at the press briefing.
Mr Lander, who heads the OSTP as a director, came under scrutiny at an internal review meeting after his subordinates complained about how he treated them.
The White House has launched an investigation into Mr Lander’s behaviour, Ms Psaki said.
“In addition to the full, thorough investigation, it was conveyed through meetings to senior White House officials directly that his behaviour was inappropriate,” the White House press secretary said.
“Nothing about his behaviour is acceptable to anyone here – not at all,” Ms Psaki.
Mr Lander’s resignation is significant in the Biden administration as the president had assured a hard line on any report of disrespect among his staff members.
At his swearing-in ceremony last year, Mr Biden told his political appointees: “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.
“Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity.”
This is the second such exit from the White House under the Biden administration as press aide TJ Ducklo was suspended a year ago after he issued threats to a reporter working on a story about his romantic relationship with another journalist.
According to a report by Politico, one OSTP staffer said: “Everyone is afraid of Mr Lander.
“Lander yells — screams. He’ll ask the same thing over and over but getting louder and louder each time,” a staffer said.
Another staffer said: “But Lander seems to know he’s protected. The most terrifying part about him is the open and brazen way he conducts his abuse. After repeatedly insulting and humiliating me in front of colleagues, Lander acknowledged his inability to control himself, telling me ‘I hate that I do it,’”, according to the Politico report.
At least 14 current and former OSTP staffers described abusive behaviour by the scientist and detailed episodes of a toxic work environment where Mr Lander is reported to have frequently bullied, cut off and dismissed subordinates.
Of these, nine OSTP staffers said that Mr Lander yelled and sometimes made people feel humiliated in front of their colleagues.