Bush Administration Names Food Safety Expert as FDA Deputy Commissioner
The Bush administration yesterday named Lester Crawford, a former veterinarian and the director of the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, as the FDA's deputy commissioner, the Wall Street Journal reports. Crawford will act as the agency's head until a commissioner is nominated (Wall Street Journal, 2/26). Last November, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson began "discreetly" circulating Crawford's name on Capitol Hill as his choice for commissioner. Food safety has been a concern of Thompson's, and Crawford was the administrator of the Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service at the USDA. However, the New York Times reports that the White House opted not to nominate Crawford to head the agency in order to select a medical doctor, the traditional profession of the FDA commissioner. Crawford has previous experience at the FDA; 20 years ago he was the director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine. He was also the executive vice president of the National Food Processors Association. Thompson said, "Lester Crawford has devoted his career to promoting safer products for the public." He added that Crawford "brings to the FDA valuable experience and leadership skills" that will help the agency "build on its successes in ensuring the safety of foods, drugs and medical products for all Americans" (Stolberg, New York Times, 2/26). Crawford replaces Bernard Schwetz, a veterinarian who had served as the FDA's top official after Commissioner Jane Henney left shortly before President Bush took office in January 2001. Schwetz will continue working at the FDA on public health issues (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/26).
Although the White House has considered several candidates to head the agency, none have meet the criteria of the administration or of Senate Democrats, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 2/26). Bush has faced problems filling the slot, as candidates with ties to the pharmaceutical industry are opposed by Senate Democrats, while the industry is opposing candidates "who lack those ties," the Times reports (New York Times, 2/26). Last week, for example, the White House told Dr. Alastair Wood, a drug safety expert at Vanderbilt University, that he would not be nominated due to opposition from pharmaceutical companies, which were critical of his support for reviewing prescription drugs after they are approved by the FDA (California Healthline, 2/8). HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said the administration is "actively looking for an FDA commissioner" (New York Times, 2/26). He added that once a permanent commissioner is found, Crawford is expected to remain the deputy commissioner, which Pierce said is "similar to a chief operating officer at a corporation" (Reuters/New York Times, 2/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.