An inquiry into allegations that Lester M. Crawford, nominated to head the Food and Drug Administration, had an inappropriate personal relationship with a senior agency colleague was referred yesterday to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) had previously asked the FDA's internal affairs office to look into the allegations made in an anonymous letter received by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday. Enzi's office declined to comment on the change of plans. The FDA Office of Internal Affairs reports to the FDA commissioner, while the HHS inspector general's office is an independent operation.
Lester M. Crawford, the acting FDA commissioner, is President Bush's choice to be head of the agency.
Kevin Keane, assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, said yesterday that "the allegations [in the letter] are completely false. Dr. Crawford welcomes the review and will cooperate completely and fully. We look forward to a quick resolution so the Senate can move forward with confirming Dr. Crawford."
Judy Holtz, spokeswoman for the inspector general's office, said she could not predict when the investigation might be completed.
"A lot depends on how many allegations we have to look at, and how many interviews have to be conducted," she said. "If they're frivolous charges, they can be dismissed quickly. If there's some validity, it could lead to weeks or months of reviewing records and doing interviews."
The Senate committee was about to vote on Crawford's confirmation Wednesday when the letter arrived. Enzi told reporters Thursday that the letter was "badly spelled, badly written, in terrible condition" and that the allegations involved questions of "personal propriety," but he declined to offer more information.
According to two Senate staffers familiar with the contents of the letter, the letter raised questions about Crawford and a woman in the FDA commissioner's office who recently received significant promotions.