- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

WHITE HOUSE

Obama to name FDA pick soon

President Obama will soon announce his pick to lead the struggling Food and Drug Administration with the aim of strengthening the agency’s regulatory muscle, the White House said Friday.

“The president hopes in the next few days to announce a pick for commissioner at FDA,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told a news briefing amid a recall of hundreds of products tied to salmonella-tainted peanuts, which have killed eight people and sickened more than 500.

Companies and consumer advocates have been anxious for Mr. Obama to name the next leader at the agency, which regulates roughly a quarter of the nation’s products, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices and dietary supplements.

Names floated for the post include Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, head of Baltimore’s health department; Dr. Robert Califf, cardiologist at Duke University; Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Steve Nissen; and Susan Wood, former head of the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health.

“I think the revelations have no doubt been alarming,” Mr. Gibbs said, adding that the president hoped to implement “a stricter regulatory structure” that would avoid such outbreaks in the future but without offering any other details.

GOP

Romney criticizes Obama on abortion

Republican Mitt Romney, one of the party’s 2008 White House contenders, accused President Obama on Friday of answering to the “most extreme wing of the abortion lobby.”

Even if the administration “will say nothing on behalf of the child waiting to be born, we must take the side of life,” the former Massachusetts governor told House Republicans at a weekend retreat, according to his prepared remarks.

Republican lawmakers gathered after voting unanimously against a White House-backed economic stimulus bill, and Mr. Romney praised them for their opposition, calling the $819 billion measure that passed the Democratic-controlled House a plan to “spend and borrow with reckless abandon.”

His reference to abortion followed Mr. Obama’s decision earlier in the week to permit federal funding to go to international organizations that perform or support abortions. A ban on such funding has been in effect during Republican administrations since 1984.

Mr. Romney also questioned Mr. Obama’s decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which the Bush administration built to hold detainees in the war on terror. “Will [Mr. Obama] send them to nations that will release them to kill Americans?” Mr. Romney said. “Or will he send them to U.S. prisons to infect our own criminal population?”

FDA

Panel recommends barring Darvon sales

Government advisers are recommending a ban on Darvon, a painkiller that’s been around for 50 years.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted 14-12 Friday to recommend withdrawing Darvon after a hearing on its risks and benefits. The drug was first approved in 1957, when there were few alternatives for pain except aspirin and powerful narcotics.

Now mainly marketed as Darvocet, which includes a dose of acetaminophen, the drug remains one of the top 25 most commonly prescribed medications. More than 20 million prescriptions were written in 2007.

The consumer group Public Citizen said the FDA should withdraw Darvon because the drug offers weak pain relief and poses an overdose risk, with the potential to be used in suicides.

INTERIOR

Ex-official admits accepting bribes

A former senior Interior Department official has pleaded guilty to accepting a $10,000 bribe for helping an insurance company do business in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The guilty plea on charges of fraud by Edgar Amos Johnson, a former director in the department’s Office of Insular Affairs, was announced Friday by the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia.

Johnson, 60, of Bowie, could face a maximum 20 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of 12 to 18 months.

Investigators said Johnson in 2007 accepted $10,000 from people seeking insurance business in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and then recommended them to senior officials in the Virgin Islands government.

Johnson was the director of the technical assistance division in the Office of Insular Affairs, where he had regular contact with senior officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands. These officials “trusted Johnson’s judgment and recommendations,” according to investigators.

JUSTICE

Abramoff ex-aide pleads guilty

A former deputy to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty Friday to charges in a Washington influence-peddling scandal.

Lobbyist Todd Boulanger admitted to a federal judge that he lavished government officials with trips, event tickets and pricey meals to get them to help his clients.

Boulanger could have faced up to five years in prison, but under terms of his plea deal prosecutors recommended that he spend 18-24 months in prison with reduced time if he continues to cooperate in the investigation.

The government revealed e-mails in which Boulanger and his colleagues discussed getting one Senate staffer tickets to see ice skating and concerts featuring Paul McCartney and Green Day. The staffer was in a position to help them with legislation benefiting one of their clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Boulanger wrote in an e-mail that the Senate aide “should get everything she wants.”

Boulanger was charged Wednesday, and his attorney, Mark Flanagan, has said his client wanted to quickly resolve the case. Mr. Flanagan said his client is cooperating with the investigation into the corruption scandal that has brought down several Washington officials.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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