Monday, May 12, 2008

New CIRM Audit and Foxes and Chickens

California's top financial officer today said the "administrative processes and expenditures" of the state's stem cell agency are "proper" and in compliance with the Prop. 71, the ballot initiative that created the agency in 2004.

The audit by the office of state Controller John Chiang made one recommendation. It involved CIRM's grants working group, where specialists failed to follow a policy requiring them to sign post-review certification forms that cover conflicts of interest, confidentiality and non-disclosure of information. CIRM said it agreed with the recommendation and has taken steps to correct the situation.

"Big deal,” said John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog. He added,
"Under Prop. 71, none of these disclosures are open to public review. They should be."
Chiang (see photo), who is a Democrat and was elected by statewide vote, ordered the audit last year following stories about violation of conflict of interest rules by a CIRM director (first reported by the California Stem Cell Report). However, the scope of the audit was limited largely to accounting and compliance matters because that falls within the scope of the controller's office.

Simpson said in a news release that the audit ignored "fundamental flaws" at the agency.
"The problem is that Prop. 71 deliberately created an oversight board that is fraught with conflict," said Simpson.

"The board is dominated by representatives of the very institutions that will receive most of the $3 billion in research funds handed out. Controller Chiang found that CIRM is following Prop. 71’s rules, but those rules specifically put the foxes in charge of the chicken coop."
The audit did refer peripherally to the investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission into complaints of conflict of interest violations by CIRM Director John Reed. Chiang and Simpson asked for the FPPC probe, which is not yet complete. The controller's report said,
"The FPPC investigatory procedures may disclose additional issues, facts, and circumstances beyond the matters noted in our review, as our review was not an investigation."
CIRM President Alan Trounson, in a response to the controller's office, said that CIRM was "pleased by the many positive findings."
"It is of overriding importance to us to ensure that California have full confidence in the integrity of the processes we use to commit public funds to stem cell research."
Release of the audit came on the same day as the state Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved, 14-0, legislation by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, aimed at ensuring that Californians have affordable access to CIRM-financed therapies. The measure, SB1565, would also require a study next year aimed at policy issues concerning CIRM, including its difficulties with conflicts of interest. The bill now goes to the Senate floor.

Chiang's audit will be reviewed by the Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee on July 7 in San Diego. That group was created by Prop. 71 to examine CIRM procedures. Sphere: Related Content

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