Lester Crawford has cleared one hurdle in his effort to serve as the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, but his nomination remains uncertain.

The inspector general for the Health and Human Services Department found no evidence that Crawford had an extramarital affair with an agency employee or that she received favorable treatment as a result.

The finding, announced Wednesday, was just what Bush administration officials had predicted when the anonymous allegations were forwarded to the IG’s office by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who is chairman of the committee that will consider the nomination.

“They were looked at even though they were anonymous,” said Kevin Keane, a spokesman for Health and Human Services. “The IG closed it’s case and now it’s time to move on.”

Crawford still appears to have a bumpy road ahead since two Democratic senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington, have promised to place a hold on the nomination when it gets to the full Senate.

Clinton says she concerned that the FDA has not made a final decision on an application from Barr Laboratories to market a morning after pill that could be bought without a doctor’s prescription. The pill is also referred to as Plan B.

Barr submitted its application in 2003, and filed a modified application last July. An FDA advisory committee recommended 24-3 that Plan B should be approved for over-the-counter sale, but the FDA has yet to make a final determination.

“The bottom line is that the FDA has had the Plan B application for years and the American people simply need an answer yes or no,” Clinton said after meeting with Crawford in April. “Science should never take a back seat to politics and ideology.”

Enzi said he has full confidence in Crawford, who has served as the acting commissioner at the FDA for more than a year.

“The FDA urgently needs a permanent commissioner to lead the agency through a challenging chapter in its history, and Dr. Crawford’s experience as acting commissioner will benefit both the agency and public safety,” Enzi said.

As for the allegations of an extramarital affair, HHS Deputy Inspector General Michael Little told Enzi in a letter that his investigation uncovered a “collegial, close personal or ‘father-daughter’ relationship” between Crawford and the woman but no evidence that the two were having an affair. Little said a review of more than 5,700 e-mails as well as interviews led investigators to that conclusion.

Little also said he found no evidence that an affair played a role in the woman’s promotion to a senior FDA job. However, he cited discrepancies in the circumstances leading to her advancement.

Crawford said the woman got the job based, in part, on a recommendation by an administrator in his office. During an interview, that administrator told the IG he had made no such recommendation and that he had previously raised concerns about her qualifications.

The IG also cited a discrepancy regarding how much Crawford helped her prepare her job application.

The woman said Crawford provided some assistance. Crawford told the IG on two occasions that his help was limited to “moral encouragement.”

The report also said there was no basis for an allegation that he had failed to take appropriate action against the aide’s alleged misuse of an agency travel card. In a sentence that was heavily redacted to avoid naming people, the IG said there was a “single instance (of) misuse” and Crawford as well as another FDA employee provided her with guidance on the proper use of the card.


On the Net:

Crawford biography: http://www.fda.gov/oc/crawford/default.htm

© 2005 The Associated Press