Friday, February 18, 2005

Ten Thousand Emerging Realities

Interesting realities often emerge during the start-up of a new enterprise. One of those occasions came this month when John Reed, a member of the oversight committee of the California stem cell agency, noted the potential size of the grant-making effort.

His remarks were made as the oversight group discussed the 15-member grant committee, which he said would be not be able to handle the tens of thousands of grant proposals that are likely to come in annually.

That raises the possibility of creation of some sort of adjunct bureaucracy to assist with the burden, given that even a mere 10,000 proposals amount to roughly 38 for every working day of the year. All would have to be responded to, considered more or less seriously and preserved securely for some time and then presumably destroyed, if not archived. That's just the basics.

Given that the stem cell agency staff is limited to 50 employees, not including members of committees, it seems likely that additional help may be needed for processing, not to mention “a large cadre of expertise” for evaluation. Reed's comments also suggest the stem cell agency could look at other programs to learn more about the workload and how it was handled.

Here is what Reed, who is chief executive of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, had to say on Feb. 3:

“'...(T)hat number of people (15) is not going to be sufficient to cover the full range of proposals and ideas that's going to emerge in the next decade. So I see them as simply a group that can serve as an initial nodal point for review, but they're going to have to involve a large cadre of expertise.

"I have some statistics here....(I)f you look at a couple of the research grant programs of a magnitude only half of what we're going to be spending, they get 20,000 proposals per year for that amount of money. So we're going to be talking about potentially a lot of proposals, and there's no way 15 people are going to review all those.

“So I think we have to bear that in mind, that this is going to be a much broader group of participation in the end than 15 people.'

“Mr. Shestack: 'The proposals are limited by having to originate in California.'

“Dr. Reed: 'To be put in perspective, there's going to be thousands, if not tens of thousands of proposals potentially.'”

Reed's remarks can be found on p. 163 of the Feb. 3 oversight committee meeting transcript.

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