Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another (Government) One Bites the Dust: Former FDA Head Crawford Pleads Guilty

It seems to be the season for the public disgrace of leaders of large health care organizations. Multiple news sources have just reported that former US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) Commissioner and acting Commisioner Lester M Crawford has plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of conflict of interest and false reporting. Typical is the report by the New York Times,
Lester M. Crawford, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, pleaded guilty this afternoon to lying and conflict-of-interest charges in connection with stock he and his wife owned in companies regulated by the F.D.A.
Dr. Crawford, 68, could be sentenced to up to a year in prison and fined up to $100,000 on each of the two counts.

Senior employees of the agency are barred from owning shares in companies it regulates. Dr. Crawford and his wife, Catherine, accordingly sold their holdings in nine companies around the time he became deputy commissioner early in 2002, the government said.

But they retained shares in three others: the food giants Sysco and Pepsico, and Kimberly-Clark, which makes consumer health products and other goods. In addition, Mrs. Crawford held shares in another regulated company, Wal-Mart, but her husband did not list them in his 2002 financial disclosure.

In addition, Dr. Crawford, who is a veterinarian and pharmacologist, exercised options to buy shares in an F.D.A.-regulated poultry biotechnology company in 2003 and 2004, earning almost $30,000 altogether. He did not list them in disclosure filings, as he should have, even though properly reported the transactions on his tax returns, the government said.

The conflict-of-interest charges stemmed from the Crawfords’ ownership of shares in Pepsico and Sysco while he was chairman of the F.D.A.’s Obesity Working Group, which was reviewing calorie-content labeling for soft drinks.
So in the last week, the former CEO of a prominent teaching hospital was convicted of conspirarcy and mail fraud (see post here), the current CEO of one of the largest US managed care organizations agreed to resign after an internal report implicated him in back-dating of stock-options (see post here), and now the former Commissioner of the FDA plead guilty to conflict of interest and disclosure violations.

Might the connection of these very large dots finally be the wake up call that we have a major problem with mismanagement, conflicts of interest, and corruption at the top of large health care organizations? This might have to do with our repeatedly lamented but never succesfully addressed problems with rising costs, declining access, questionable quality, and demoralized health care professionals.

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