Acting FDA Chief Cleared of Improprieties

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Inspector general has found no evidence that acting Food and Drug Administration head Lester Crawford (search) had an extramarital affair with an agency employee and acted inappropriately because of it.

However, the inquiry by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, cited inconsistencies in the manner in which the woman was promoted and assistance that Crawford may have given her. The identity of the woman was not disclosed.

Crawford's nomination to head the FDA on a permanent basis has been held up pending completion of the investigation, which was requested by Sen. Mike Enzi (search), R-Wyo.

Enzi released the findings, which he said cleared the way for a confirmation vote.

In a letter to Enzi, HHS Deputy Inspector General Michael Little (search) said 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 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 elevation.

Crawford said the woman got the job based 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 complaints came to Enzi anonymously in a letter that he described as badly spelled and badly written. They also led to what would seem to be contradictory allegations.

For example, the IG looked into whether Crawford intervened on the woman's behalf -- as alleged in the letter -- to remove silicone breast implants from the market in 1992. The IG found no evidence he had done so. In fact, the report said they had not met until 1997.

While investigating that, the IG found Crawford's aide had given another FDA official an unsigned document backing the implants' safety just before the FDA publicly debated that question this April. The paper made its way to Crawford, too, but the IG found no evidence of impropriety on his part.

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.

Enzi, chairman of the Senate committee that will consider the nomination, said he had full confidence in Crawford.

"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," he said.

Even if the nomination clears the committee, it is not clear whether it would get a vote in the full Senate.

Two Democratic senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington, have promised to place a hold on the nomination. They and other Democrats have criticized the agency's failure to act on a request to allow over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill.