Thursday, May 28, 2009

Structural Changes in CIRM? Preliminary Thoughts from California's Good Government Agency

SACRAMENTO – Significant structural changes affecting the leadership of the California stem cell agency would be made under preliminary recommendations of a staff report of the Little Hoover Commission, the state's governmental efficiency organization.

The size of the CIRM board would be reduced from 29 to 15, the dual CEO situation would be eliminated, salaries for the chairman and vice chairman would be halted and the super-majority quorums for board action would vanish.

The proposals, which are not yet official recommendations of the Little Hoover Commission, were unveiled Wednesday at a meeting of the group's CIRM subcommittee. The final report with modifications is likely to come up for approval in June.

Public comment on the plan, however, was severely hampered by the commission's refusal to make the document available to either CIRM or interested parties in keeping with the commission's longstanding practice of not publicly disclosing draft documents. Instead the public and CIRM heard a relatively quick oral overview.

Ironically, one of the charges of the Little Hoover Commission is to examine the transparency of CIRM. However, the commission's practice stands in sharp contrast to CIRM's policy of publicly disclosing its draft documents.

At one point, Stuart Drown, executive director of the commission, said that CIRM has worked hard at transparency, declaring,
"They put all kinds of stuff on the Web."
Other potential recommendations offered Wednesday include removal of the cap of 50 on the size of CIRM staff but retaining the 6 percent overhead limitation along with creation of procedures for possible removal of CIRM board members. Currently none exist under Prop. 71, the ballot initiative that created the $3 billion research effort.

The Little Hoover subcommittee also cited the need for a succession plan for CIRM leadership, including the chairman. It recommended a clear, revised, long-term plan for the organization that would lay out its plans for sustainability or shutdown. CIRM is widely regarded as a 10-year program, but there is no sunset provision on its work, which officially began in 2004.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein has projected its existence for several years beyond 2014 and has mentioned the possibility of seeking additional bond funding, CIRM's only current source of significant cash. CIRM has the capability of creating a nonprofit organization, an unusual attribute among state agencies. Such an organization could possibly serve as a funding arm in the future.

Drown said a perception remains that the CIRM board is an "insiders' club." In addition to shrinking the size of the board, the initial recommendations suggested appointment of outside, independent individuals, possibly from the scientific community or the public, or both.

The subcommittee clearly shied away from any changes that would require another ballot measure, a procedure mandated by Prop. 71 for certain, major alterations in CIRM. The panel also appeared to be reluctant to recommend modification of the 70 percent, legislative vote requirement for other changes involving CIRM.

That super, super-majority vote standard does not apply to any other function in state government and was created by voter approval of Prop. 71.

Any changes recommended by the Little Hoover Commission would have to clear that 70 percent hurdle or be voluntarily adopted by CIRM -- if that is legally possible. CIRM could not, for example, reduce the size of the board on its own.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., praised the commission's staff for its recommendations and generally expressed support.

Two representatives from CIRM attended the meeting, Don Gibbons, chief of communications, and James Harrison, outside counsel to CIRM. They spoke briefly during the meeting but engaged the commission staff outside on the sidewalk in nearly 100-degree heat following the meeting. Klein sent a letter to the commission, the text of which follows in an item below.

During the session, we expressed our concerns to the subcommittee about its secrecy involving draft reports. We also sent a letter to the Little Hoover Commission concerning the practice. The text of that letter follows the Klein letter.

Individuals interested in making comments about CIRM can send them to the Little Hoover Commission at at Sphere: Related Content

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