Thursday, February 10, 2005

Tough CIRM Application Disappears

California's stem cell agency has dropped its probing and perhaps invasive job application form from its web site. Instead the institute now posts a standard state employment application document.

The disappearance of the application form came after the California Stem Cell Report on Feb. 1 wrote about the nature of the inquiries on the original application. The change on the CIRM web site also occurred after the California Stem Cell Report began to query the appointing authorities, from the governor to UC chancellors, about whether they had asked appointees to the Oversight Committee the same questions posed in the application for CIRM employees.

The original application form vanished from the CIRM web site by Feb. 9, the last time it was checked by the California Stem Cell Report, and was replaced by a plain vanilla form.

In response to an inquiry about the change, Fiona Hutton, a spokeswoman for CIRM, said, “As was discussed at the last ICOC meeting, the initial employment application was taken directly from the Governor's web site. In terms of getting up to speed quickly, the Institute staff utilized the Governor's existing application as a foundation to start from. The application has been edited as you pointed out.”

The Feb. 1 item on this web site about the now retired job application said in part:

“California's stem cell agency wants to know. Can somebody that you associated with impugn your character, even unfairly? That is one of the very personal questions that must be answered by job applicants to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“Might your income or investments present an “appearance” of a conflict of interest? Yes or no. Have you written a letter-to-the-editor on “any particular controversial issue?” Yes or no. Is there anything in your background that could embarrass us? Yes or no. Please explain is the request if you respond in the affirmative.”

Our conclusion was that these questions should be asked, in one form or another, by CIRM of all applicants, ranging from clerks to president. The reason being is that genuinely big money is at stake. And there is a history of successful temptation in other big money venues.

The questions on the application form, however, raised other questions about whether appointees to the Oversight Committee faced the same interrogation. So we addressed the appropriate appointing powers. But some statewide constitutional officers, including the governor, seem terribly timid about making themselves available to public inquiries via email. The email addresses of some of their press offices, which, in theory, would be the most accessible, are virtually impossible to find. If a reporter is part of the Capitoil press contingent, those email addresses are undoubtedly accessible. But if you are a reporter for the Imperial Valley Press, for example, forget about ever sending an email to the governor's press office. You may never find the address.

An exception was the website and office of the state treasurer, Phil Angelides, whose public spokesman, Dan Newman, responded quickly and professionally. The UC campuses were also generally accessible.

Based on the responses to our query, it appears that none of the appointees to the Oversight Committee have been asked the type of questions that CIRM wanted to ask its potential employees with two possible exceptions, including perhaps the governor.

Here is the question that we posed on Feb. 2 to all the appointing entities: “Were the appointees to the oversight committee asked the questions contained in the application prior to their appointment? (We) plan to publish an item on your response next week. Please send it to us by 3 p.m. PST Wednesday Feb. 9. The other appointing powers for the committee are also being asked the same question.”

Here are the responses by office.

Governor – Did not respond. The application form that Hutton mentioned could not be downloaded at the time of this writing, which may have something to do with our Internet link.

Lt. Gov.-- “The Lieutenant Governor did not ask the questions on that list of prospective CIRM candidates and no one provided him with a list of recommended questions. We took the step of providing each potential candidate with a Form 700 (state economic disclosure form) so they could see just what they would need to declare. We also advised them that they should be prepared to recuse themselves from any votes concerning matters that might pose a potential conflict. Dr. Richard Murphy suggested in the interview that subcommittees that screen grant applications should be staffed by people from other states to minimize conflicts. The Lieutenant Governor liked that idea,” said Stephen Green, a spokesman for Bustamante.

Treasurer – “We had those we were considering fill out our standard State Treasurer's Office appointee application, so, no, we didn't use the application that the CIRM is using,” Dan Newman said. The treasurer's application (sent by email) is close to what CIRM had, which is not unexpected considering the sensitive nature of the billions of dollars of investments handled by the treasuer's office. The questions on the treasurer's form include whether the applicant has been involved in an “appearance” of a conflict of interest, has written letters-to-the-editor on controversial subjects and whether the applicant has anything in his or her background that could reflect negatively on the treasurer and more along those lines. (Send us an email if you would like to us to send you the entire application, which is not available online.)

Controller --.Did not respond.

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, now out office – Could not be reached.

Assembly Speaker – Did not respond.

UC Chancellors – Lisa Lapin, assistant vice chancellor at UC Davis answered first. Her response then became the response of all the chancellors. (For newsgatherers, that is one of the perils of asking questions with a long lead time for response. Everybody's response is easily coordinated, ducks can be aligned, candidness is lost and so forth. But if they aren't given a long lead time for a response, our public information officers often yip like wounded coyotes.)

Here is the UC answer:

“Because the five ICOC members appointed from the UC medical schools are, by virtue of their UC positions, (public officials under the Political Reform Act, they had already filled out state disclosure forms listing their economic interests (Form 700), even before their appointment to the ICOC. Before announcing our appointments, UC reviewed with each member the interests listed on their form and discussed with them the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest and of recusing themselves from decisions in which they have a personal financial interest, as required by law.

“The CIRM employment application form was just recently posted to CIRM's website. It is not something we had seen prior to the appointment of the University'ss ICC representatives. UC Davis Medical School Dean and Vice Chancellor of our health system, Claire Pomeroy, our appointee, has not subsequently been asked by Institute staff to respond to the questions listed on the CIRM application form.”

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