Correction to This Article
The headline on an Oct. 26 Federal Page article about an investigation into the retirement of former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Lester M. Crawford was incorrect. An inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services initiated the investigation, not the FDA inspector general.

FDA to Probe Chief's Departure

Lester M. Crawford, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, resigned last month after less than three months in the post.
Lester M. Crawford, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, resigned last month after less than three months in the post. (By Jay Mallin -- Bloomberg News)
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lawmakers concerned and mystified about last month's sudden retirement of Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester M. Crawford may get some answers.

At the time, they requested an investigation, and this week the inspector general who monitors the FDA said he has begun a review.

"This office is currently reviewing the circumstances regarding Dr. Crawford's resignation. Depending upon the results of the review, we will determine the next appropriate action," Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson wrote to members of Congress.

In announcing his departure less than three months after being confirmed as commissioner, Crawford simply said he had determined it was time to move on.

His lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, said yesterday that Crawford has not been notified of any new inspector general inquiry. In an e-mail, she also disputed reports that he had resigned and said Crawford had "retired."

In the absence of a full statement from Crawford or the administration, the circumstances of his departure remain clouded.

Administration officials contacted some members of Congress after Crawford stepped down and indicated that the departure was related to problems discovered with Crawford's financial disclosure forms. Based on that information, Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), as well as Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and three other representatives, asked the inspector general to investigate Crawford's departure.

"The whole resignation seemed very unusual . . . very strange," said Hinchey, who received a letter from the inspector general regarding Crawford this week. "On the surface, Crawford seems like a straight guy. Our interest was aroused by the issue of potential conflicts and the consequences they could have in the future."

In the one interview Crawford has given since his departure, with Forbes.com, he denied that his resignation had anything to do with financial conflicts of interest.

He said his decision was the result in part of the controversy over his ruling that he did not have authority to make the morning-after pill more accessible, and the prospect of another battle over the abortion pill, RU-486.

Crawford was sharply criticized after he announced in late August that the agency could not rule on the morning-after pill, which is a contraceptive, although FDA scientists and outside experts agreed that it could be safely sold without a prescription. The abortion pill RU-486 was approved by the FDA in 2000, but some social and religious conservatives have petitioned the agency to have it removed from the market.

In his Forbes.com interview, Crawford said: "I didn't think it was possible to be very effective anymore." Crawford's lawyer declined to comment on the article.

Crawford is also involved in a Government Accountability Office investigation into why the agency initially turned down the morning-after pill application in May 2004. A draft of the report was circulated on Capitol Hill and at the FDA earlier this month, and some congressional aides who read it said it reported that top FDA officials played an unusually active role in the decision.

Several footnotes to the report say that efforts to interview Crawford, then-acting commissioner, about the decision were unsuccessful. Through his lawyer, Crawford said he never declined to cooperate with the GAO investigators. Today is the last day for comments on the report, and the GAO has said the report will be released soon.

If the inspector general does initiate a full investigation into Crawford's resignation, it would be the second into his conduct this year. After Crawford was nominated this spring to be permanent commissioner -- after more than a year as acting commissioner -- an anonymous letter accused him of having an inappropriate relationship with a colleague in the commissioner's office.

That inquiry concluded there was no evidence that he had an affair with the woman, Susan Bond. But it reported several discrepancies in answers given by Crawford and others in the commissioner's office regarding his help in securing Bond's highly competitive Senior Executive Service position last year.

Bond left the agency this month, and will begin working as a senior vice president at the International Food Information Council next month, according to the group.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company