Friday, February 17, 2006

Ortiz Seeks Performance Audit of CIRM; Westly Says "Tough Oversight" Needed

Acting on a suggestion of Gov. Schwarzenegger, California State Sen. Deborah Ortiz and nine other legislators are calling for a performance audit of the California stem cell agency.

Their request will come before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in room 447 of the state Capitol.

In the letter calling for the audit, Ortiz, a Sacramento Democrat, said the review should include:
"...the strategic policies and plans developed by the CIRM and the ICOC; policies and procedures for issuance of research and facility contracts and grants; policies for hiring and compensation of staff and for procurement of goods and services; policies for managing conflicts of interest for ICOC and working group members; and policies and procedures relating to management of intellectual property rights associated with research funded or commissioned by the CIRM."

She noted that a performance audit of CIRM would have been required by her legislation (SB18) that was vetoed by the governor. She said the governor's veto message urges the legislature to pursue an audit through the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

Ortiz' request, which includes support from three Republican legislators, calls for completion of the audit by Sept. 30. Her office did not issue a press release on her Feb. 1 request letter. We asked for it after discovering the item on the agenda of the Audit Committee.

CIRM also faces an audit of its own that will cost about $50,000 and be performed by the firm of Gilbert Associates of Sacramento. But the one requested by Ortiz is likely to be the most rigorous.

State Controller Steve Westly, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, announced last week he would be reviewing CIRM's financial activities. Westly's campaign is making a special effort, fueled by Google ads, to "get stem cell research back on track now."

As state controller, Westly is also chair of the Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee of CIRM and is required by law to "review" CIRM's own audit annually and issue a public report.

In a little noticed press release last week, Westly described himself as a strong supporter of Prop. 71 and said, “Tough oversight will ensure the public's confidence in our stem cell program. The stakes are too high for the institute to risk its funds or the public's trust.”

Westly's office will review the audit already commissioned by CIRM and discuss it a meeting of the Financial Accountability Committee later this spring.

In addition to himself, Westly announced that following the following persons are on the committee:

"Richard Siegal, member, appointed by the State Controller
"John Hein, appointed by the Assembly Speaker
"Jim Lott, appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem
"Daniel S. Brunner, appointed by the State Treasurer
"Myrtle Potter, member, appointed by the Chair of the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee"

No further information was provided in Westly's press release about the qualifications of the five persons.

A copy of Ortiz' letter follows below because it was not available online at the time this writing.

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