Crawford Plea Shows FDA Is in Need of an Overhaul

This week, charges were filed against former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford for making a false writing and serving with conflicts of interest.  I led the call last year for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General Daniel Levinson to conduct an investigation into Crawford's sudden resignation with a particular focus on any potential financial conflicts of interest.  Levinson initiated the investigation in response.

Senior officials at the FDA have led the agency down a dark road into a state of crisis.  This new court filing against Lester Crawford underscores the fact that the FDA, which is one of the most important protectors of public health and safety, is in need of a serious overhaul.  By blatantly ignoring the law on financial holdings and conflicts of interest, Lester Crawford used his position as the head of the FDA to send all the wrong signals to other FDA employees and the American public.  It is not possible for the FDA to fairly and impartially regulate the food and drug industries when the commissioner of the agency has a vested financial interest in the results.

Public confidence in the agency is already shattered and this week's news will unfortunately make things worse.  The Bush administration has plainly failed to safeguard the FDA's reputation as the foremost protector of consumer safety.  The FDA is in desperate need of steady leadership to right this sinking ship.  Based on how the agency is structured, I've long said that the FDA has a far too cozy relationship with industry, but this latest news brings that to a whole new level.

We do not know the full ramifications of Lester Crawford's misbehavior, which is why it is imperative that the HHS Inspector General finalize his investigation.  Based on Lester Crawford's apparent disregard for the law, we must find out what other improper actions he took while leading the FDA, which may not necessarily have been illegal, but were inappropriate or unethical.  The American public has the right to know what else Lester Crawford may have done in office that could have lasting, detrimental effects on the FDA.

Leadership starts at the top.  The FDA is staffed with thousands of well-qualified scientists and practitioners who are starving for the ethical, conflict-free leadership and guidance that they and the American public richly deserve.  The entire culture at the FDA needs to change.  The days of letting the FDA treat the pharmaceutical industry as a client rather than a regulated entity must come to an end.  I will continue to push for Congress to debate and address my FDA Improvement Act, which would go a long way toward ensuring that the American public has an FDA that is on its side.