Friday, August 03, 2007

Time for More Openness in $220 Million Grant Program

The California Stem Cell Report today formally called on directors of the California stem cell agency to open up the $220 million lab grant process by making the names of applicants and other related information a matter of public record.

In a letter to California stem cell Chairman Robert Klein, David Jensen, publisher of the report, said such action would conform to the letter and spirit of the California Constitution, which guarantees the public a broadly construed right of access to information about “the conduct of the people's business.” He also said opening up the information would help to preserve public confidence in embryonic stem cell research.

Here is the text of the letter:

"This letter is to request that the Oversight Committee -- as part of the RFA to be considered for major labs at the Aug,. 8 meeting -- stipulate that the names of the applying institutions, their letters of intent and applications are a public record when they are received by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

"Such action by the ICOC would serve the best interests of CIRM and its goal of adherence to the highest standards of openness and transparency. It would also comply with the letter and spirit of the California Constitution, which declares that the people of California have “the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business” -- a right that is to be “broadly construed.” As you know, 83 percent of voters approved that constitutional right of access in November 2004 when they passed Prop. 59.

"In many ways, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is very open, which is a tribute to the Oversight Committee's commitment to transparency.

"But now, as the agency embarks on its single largest round of grants, it is time to take another step to protect the public interest and the agency itself as well. Fifteen members of the Oversight Committee have ties of one sort or another to institutions that may well seek funds in this round of lab grants. The entire University of California system is represented on the board, along with Stanford University, the Burnham Institute and other well-regarded institutions. On Aug. 8, the board will set the rules under which employers of many of its members stand to benefit by tens of millions of dollars. Combine all that with the critically important but closed-door, scientific review of the applications, and you have an information void that can only lead to the worst sort of speculation. Making the applicant names and other information public goes a long way in helping to prevent such a situation.

"In the past, CIRM has made a case for privacy on research grant applications from individual scientists. But applications from government and nonprofit institutions are fundamentally different. They are not subject to the same concerns that individual researchers might have regarding their reputations or work.

"We urge you to act in the public's best interest and open up the $220 million lab grant process by making public the names, letters of intent and applications from all institutions seeking funds. Such a move will enhance CIRM's reputation and help to maintain public confidence in embryonic stem cell research."
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