Tuesday, September 27, 2005

CIRM Stalls Again on Mystery Costs

Shortly after we posted the item below on the mystery budget for this weekend's stem cell science conference, the California stem cell agency reinforced its stalling tactics on the session's costs.

We received an email from CIRM, which claims the information is "preliminary" and thus is not public. The claim is part of the hoary bureaucratic stall technique discussed in our earlier item. The appropriate translation of the message from CIRM is, "Sue us. Our $500-an-hour attorney will take on any comers. We may not prevail, but the litigation will take months, if not years, so go for it."

Here is what CIRM said: "We have determined that the record you have requested is a preliminary draft, which will not be retained by CIRM in the ordinary course of business and is exempt from disclosure under Government Code section 6254(a).
 
"The budgeted amount for the Scientific Conference is $215,000. This figure is available on the CIRM website at http://www.cirm.ca.gov/meetings/pdf/2005/08/31/083105_item_3c.pdf.
 
"The figures for individual budget items have not yet been finalized, however we anticipate that our actual costs will fall below the budgeted $215,000 figure. We will be happy to provide you with the breakdown of the conference costs when those numbers are final."

Hundreds – if not thousands – of state government bureaucrats have argued over the years that much of what they do is "preliminary" and thus not fit for the public. CIRM, however, has published online scores of documents, equally as preliminary as the proposed spending plan for its science conference. Indeed, CIRM published preliminary versions of its own annual budget plans. Other government agencies do the same. The governor of California publishes incredibly detailed preliminary versions of his budget each year as does the President of the United States.

We should note that if the preliminary information is not retained, not even the CIRM staff will know whether the figures come in under budget – unless it subscribes to the oral tradition of bookkeeping.

The significance of CIRM's response has little to do with the conference itself. It has a great deal to do with whether it is a responsible public agency that takes its charge seriously and honestly. Based on this sad reaction to a request for routine information, it appears that empty rhetoric is likely to be the order of the day for the California stem cell agency. Sphere: Related Content

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