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Biden’s ‘Drug Tsar’ Dr. Rahul Gupta Accused of Creating Toxic Environment at Work and Neglecting Duties

Biden’s ‘Drug Tsar’ Dr. Rahul Gupta Accused of Creating Toxic Environment at Work and Neglecting Duties

  • In a detailed report Politico talked to several former and current staffers who described the Indian American as egocentric” and a “prima donna preoccupied with his public profile.”

Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), has been accused of creating a toxic work environment and neglecting his duties. The detailed Feb. 16 report by Politico noted that complaints have mounted over Gupta, who several current and former staffers describe as “egocentric” and a “prima donna preoccupied with his public profile.”

“At least eight top officials and a number of other aides have resigned in recent months,” the Politico report said, “in large part because of Gupta’s leadership.” These departures have “created a significant leadership vacuum in the office of roughly 75 people, leading to dysfunction across the team that has caused important deadlines to be missed, the report added, quoting people familiar with the situation. 

All those who spoke to Politico were “granted anonymity to speak candidly and without fear of retribution,” the publication stated. One former ONDCP official said: “When everybody leaves, it can’t be ‘everybody is the problem. On some level, you might be the problem.”

Meanwhile, an ONDCP official told Politico that the office’s “critical mission to address the overdose epidemic” is “deeply personal “ to Gupta.He “remains laser-focused on the office’s work to strengthen life-saving public health services, prevent illicit drugs from reaching our communities, and meeting with Americans across the country to strengthen our whole-of-society response,” the official said.

Gupta, specialist in internal medicine and preventive medicine, was confirmed in October 2021 by the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan basis. A thought leader and a driver of innovative public policies on health issues, the became the first medical doctor ever to hold the position. 

However, seven current and former officials told West Wing Playbook that Gupta “has not lived up to that billing.” He put “unrealistic pressure on his small team to raise his public profile,” they said, adding that he became “frustrated” when staff were “unable to land meetings with a high-ranking official during his frequent work travels both nationally and internationally. He had “unrealistic demands about his travel accommodations,” they said, and mentioned that those trips “often centered around Gupta rather than the work ONDCP was doing.” 

The son of an Indian diplomat, Gupta was born in India and grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. At age 21, he completed medical school at the University of Delhi. 

They recalled how he “canceled one trip last year, after months of planning, because he didn’t want to fly Southwest Airlines.” Citing other instances they told Politico how he “once calculated the square-footage of a hotel room, and then requested staff book him a larger room.” He was also known to attend events and parties “in a black government SUV with staff, even though that sort of service is not typically used by ONDCP directors for events unrelated to the office’s direct work.” They staffers told Politico they believe Gupta’s “approach to the job is directly at odds with the president’s early insistence that he would not tolerate demeaning behavior by his team.”They said they have so far remained silent due to “fear of retribution.”

Gupta began his career in private practice in an underserved community of fewer than 2,000 residents. The son of an Indian diplomat, Gupta was born in India and grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. At age 21, he completed medical school at the University of Delhi. He earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Alabama-Birmingham and a global master’s of business administration degree from the London School of Business and Finance. He is married to Dr. Seema Gupta, a physician in the Veterans Administration for over a decade. They are the proud parents of identical twin sons, Arka and Drew.

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Before joining the White House, he served as the Chief Medical and Health Officer for the March of Dimes, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health outcomes and resources for mothers and babies. Before that he was a clinical professor in the Department of Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine as well as an adjunct professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership in the School of Public Health at West Virginia University and visiting faculty at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Gupta served as West Virginia’s health officer from 2015 to 2018, where he led the opioid crisis response efforts. He launched a number of pioneering public health initiatives, including the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Birthscore program to identify high-risk infants. He led the development of the state’s Zika action plan and its preparedness efforts during the Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak.

Several officials from West Virginia, including Sen. Joe Manchin, hailed Gupta’s confirmation. In an Oct. 29 statement, Manchin called Gupta “yet another extraordinary West Virginian,” and said he “intimately understands the needs of communities across America.” Manchin said Gupta’s “work to combat the drug epidemic in a state with the worst overdose rate in the nation, makes him well-prepared to lead similar efforts on a national scale.”

Similarly, the Kanawha County Commission released a joint statement praising Gupta for his “impeccable” leadership abilities. “He truly cares about addiction problems and will ensure that services to rural areas will be at the forefront of his platform,” the statement read.

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