Monday, June 08, 2009

Patient Advocate Slams CIRM Reforms as Ludicrous

Patient advocate Don Reed recently presented his views on the Little Hoover Commission's preliminary recommendations for improvements in the operations of the California stem cell agency.

The piece on his blog,, used terms like “worst fears,” “disaster,” “ludicrous” and “politicizing.” Reed said the the agency is highly successful. “Why gut it?” he asked.

Reed has followed the agency since the campaign to create it in 2004. He is vice president for public policy of Americans for Cures, which is the private stem cell lobbying group of the chairman of stem cell agency, Robert Klein. He is only one of two staff members currently listed on the group's Web site.

We do not agree with Reed's analysis of what the Little Hoover Commission is considering, and we think that some of his information is off target. For example, Reed asserts that five audits have determined that CIRM is “open and honest.” In fact, all but of one of those audits had a quite limited scope involving compliance with accepted accounting practices. And as many persons know, compliance with accounting standards does not signify a healthy or open enterprise. One recent case in point is General Motors.

The only audit to go beyond such limited scope was a “performance audit” by the state's auditor, but it also did not examine CIRM's openness or honesty.

Like Reed, we support CIRM's endeavors. But we believe that it is hampered by unnecessarily restrictive provisions in Prop. 71, which are now codified in state law and the state Constitution and virtually impossible to change. Many of those provisions are management minutia that should have been left to the CIRM board to decide. Those include the dual CEO structure, super-majority quorum requirements and a poorly thought-out cap on the number of CIRM employees. That is not to mention the conflicts of interest on the board that were built into the initiative in order to win political campaign support from all the key institutions and businesses.

Reed is attempting to drum up a letter-writing campaign from patient advocates and “true believers” in stem cell research to persuade the Little Hoover Commission to pull back on its recommendations.

While we respect Reed's beliefs, the Little Hoover Commission should pay no more attention to “true believer” letters than the NIH should to the thousands of letters it has received from the religious right opposing its proposed rules on human embryonic stem cell research – at least as far as both rely on faith-based reasoning.

The California stem cell agency is giving away $3 billion in taxpayer funds at a cost of another $3 to $4 billion in interest. Evaluation and support of the effort must be based on hard facts and conditioned on how well it actually meets its public responsibilities and its much-touted adherence to the highest standards of openness and transparency.

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