Senators Call on President Bush To Appoint Permanent FDA Commissioner
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Tuesday called on President Bush to appoint a new FDA commissioner after Lester Crawford resigned Friday, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 9/27). Crawford resigned two months after his confirmation as FDA commissioner in July.
In an e-mail to FDA employees, Crawford wrote that "after three and a half years as deputy commissioner, acting commissioner and, finally, as commissioner, it is time, at the age of 67, to step aside." In a letter to Bush on Friday, Crawford said that his resignation was "effective immediately." Crawford, a veterinarian and a food safety expert, became FDA deputy commissioner in 2002 and later became acting agency commissioner.
Bush named Andrew von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute, as acting FDA commissioner (California Healthline, 9/27). HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Monday said that "there is no timetable" for the nomination of a permanent FDA commissioner and that von Eschenbach will provide "strong leadership" at the agency. Von Eschenbach also has said that he will retain his position as NCI director.
However, Grassley said, "I expect that whoever is named commissioner -- either acting or confirmed -- will know that it's not possible to give the FDA the kind of strong new leadership that is needed to reinvigorate the agency on a part-time basis." Grassley added, "I look forward to a new commissioner, who can be totally dedicated to the job, being named as soon as possible. The FDA has struggled with temporary leadership for too many years."
In a letter to Leavitt on Tuesday, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) also raised concerns about "the current unsatisfactory situation" at FDA, adding that "there are also intrinsic conflicts of interest between the role of NCI director, who manages a research program that includes drug development, and the role of FDA commissioner, whose responsibility is to review the safety and effectiveness of those drugs" (CQ HealthBeat, 9/27).
An HHS spokesperson said that she had no comment on the issue (Lumpkin, AP/Arizona Republic, 9/28). Leavitt spokesperson Christina Pearson on Tuesday said that Bush will not revise the plan for von Eschenbach to retain his position as director of NCI (Saul/Pear, New York Times, 9/28).
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) said that the plan for von Eschenbach to lead both FDA and NCI "ain't going to work." Dodd added, "I don't care who the guy is -- he could be Jonas Salk; he's not going to do both jobs."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that the appointment of von Eschenbach as acting FDA commissioner "looks like a conflict," adding, "Given the problems at the agency, that's not a prescription in my view for turning things around" (Rovner, Reuters News, 9/27). Wyden said his staff has begun an investigation into whether precedent exists for one individual to hold two high-level positions in the federal government (CQ HealthBeat, 9/28).
Marc Scheineson, a former FDA associate commissioner, said, "It's a foot in both camps. He's going to quickly have to decide where to put his foot. You have to be on one side or the other."
Abbey Meyers, president of the National Organization for Rare Disorders, said, "I don't know how he's going to" lead both FDA and NCI. "Maybe he doesn't realize how big a job it is," Meyers said (AP/Arizona Republic, 9/28).
Meanwhile, "questions linger" about the reasons why Crawford resigned as FDA commissioner, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 9/27).
On Tuesday, William Walker, his brother-in-law, said that an unintentional failure to disclose financial holdings led Crawford to resign. Walker did not name specific holdings but said, "They had a money manager, and they thought they had divested." Crawford in February disclosed a six-figure portfolio that in large part consisted of blue-chip stocks in companies such as Dell, Home Depot, Staples and Bank of America -- none of which appeared to conflict with his position at FDA.
However, Crawford might have "more complex" finances because his wife, Catherine Walker Crawford, shared proceeds of a $140 million sale of Walker Drug, which was owned by her family, to prescription drug wholesaler AmeriSource Health in 1997, the Times reports. In addition, his wife in 2002 became heir to the proceeds of the sale that her mother received (New York Times, 9/28).