Embattled Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester Crawford resigned Friday, telling his staff that at age 67 it was time to step aside.
His resignation came just two months after the Senate, in a long-delayed move, elevated the longtime agency deputy and acting commissioner to the top job. Crawford's three-year tenure as acting commissioner, then FDA chief, was marked by increasing criticism as the painkiller Vioxx was pulled from the market for safety problems, recalls mounted of malfunctioning approved heart devices and controversy grew over wider access to emergency contraception.
Last month, morale at the agency plummeted when Crawford indefinitely postponed nonprescription sales of morning-after contraception over the objections of staff scientists who had declared the pill safe. FDA's women's health chief resigned.
Still, Crawford's resignation, effective immediately, was a surprise. An affable veterinarian who specialized in food safety, he was elevated by President George W. Bush from acting commissioner to the full job in part because his experience was deemed important as the FDA attempted to safeguard the food supply better against bioterrorism.
Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt accepted Crawford's resignation "with sadness," said department spokeswoman Christina Pearson. Asked if he was forced to resign, Pearson declined further comment, calling it a personnel issue, AP reports.