Saturday, December 22, 2007

CIRM Withholds Routine Information on Interest in Disease Team Grants

The California stem cell agency Friday declined to disclose the numbers that would provide some indication of how businesses are responding to the agency's first-ever attempt to solicit grant applications from the private sector.

Thursday was the deadline for letters of intent to apply for $1 million in grants to plan a disease team effort. The planning grant program is a key entry point for those who want to participate in a later, $122 million disease grant round.

Ellen Rose, interim spokeswoman for CIRM, on Friday said the institute was not providing any count of the letters of intent or breakdown because it was "busy." She said CIRM intends to "address the level of interest" in the disease team program "sometime after the holiday."

Up until recently, the agency routinely and quickly released the numbers of letters of intent and applications for grants. However, the number of applications for the lab construction grants was delayed for days this fall. At the time, Interim President Richard Murphy said he preferred not to release any count.

However, the number of applications and letters of intent is a routine matter and legally public information. Refusing to release it in a timely fashion does not meet CIRM's claim to adhere to the highest standards of openness.

Often when public agencies delay the release of information, it means the information is negative and reflects poorly on the bureaucracy in question. Other times, it can mean that the agency is trying to figure out how to spin the information. We suspect the latter is what is occurring in this case.


  1. Anonymous12:35 PM

    While saying they're "busy" is an unfortunate response, CIRM is very busy and assuming that they're trying to hide negative information is wrong unless proven otherwise. CIRM is in the midst of staff turnover and reorganization while trying to move forward. What's the point of this speculation when you have a lot of bright people trying to do good in a fishbowl of politics and second-guessing?

  2. Thanks for your comment on the item above. However, you miss the main point, which is that this is routine information. When a public agency cannot perform or chooses not to perform routine actions, it does raise questions. The public has an extremely broad, constitutional right to know about the conduct of its business. It may be that the "fishbowl of politics" is not the place to conduct scientific research, but it is a fishbowl deliberately chosen by stem cell research supporters so that they have access to $3 billion in public funds. For nearly three years, CIRM has pleaded that it should be given some slack because of the newness of its effort. That argument is wearing quite thin.

  3. Anonymous1:16 PM

    Your point was not missed. However this is a new mixture of scientists (and others) trying to do work in a transparent, political environment that is constantly changing. I'm not saying that they always make the right moves. But they are continuing to drive forward with the best of motivations. Hard to see from your deck, eh?