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Letter Says Nominee Favored FDA Staffer

Personal Relationship Is Alleged

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page A02

The anonymous allegation that has stalled Lester M. Crawford's nomination as Food and Drug Administration commissioner involves a personal relationship with a senior member of the FDA staff, according to congressional staffers familiar with the matter.

The allegation, made Wednesday to the Senate committee that is reviewing Crawford's nomination, also involves questions about significant promotions the woman received, the sources said. They did not wish to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Lester M. Crawford is acting commissioner of the FDA. (J. Scott Applewhite -- AP)

After receiving the allegations on the day the committee was scheduled to vote, Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) postponed action and asked the FDA's Office of Internal Affairs to investigate.

Yesterday, Enzi told reporters that the committee had received "an anonymous letter, badly spelled, badly written, in terrible condition" with allegations regarding Crawford, who is acting commissioner of the agency. But Enzi said that he did not think they were true or that they would derail the nomination.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that President Bush "believes Dr. Crawford is someone who brings great experience to the position and is highly qualified to lead the FDA."

Craig Orfield, spokesman for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said yesterday that there is no timetable set for the investigation of Crawford but that Enzi hopes it "will be completed in an expeditious manner and that we can move forward with the nomination as soon as possible."

It was unclear yesterday whether the FDA's internal affairs office would handle the investigation since it reports to the acting commissioner.

Crawford could not be reached through the FDA or its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and spokesmen for the agencies declined to comment.

Crawford's nomination had already run into trouble with several Democratic senators. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said they would put a hold on it once it reached the Senate floor because of the agency's failure to decide about an application to make emergency contraception available without a prescription.

Crawford, 67, has been acting commissioner for the past year and served in the same capacity in 2001. Under his leadership, the FDA has been harshly criticized for its handling of several major drug safety problems, including the withdrawal of the arthritis painkiller Vioxx. Several FDA reviewers have also complained of intimidation by supervisors when they presented damaging data about drugs on the market, and the agency has taken steps to better protect employees with dissenting views.

Since Bush became president, the FDA has had a permanent, Senate-confirmed commissioner for only 17 months.

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