Tuesday, January 30, 2007

FTCR: No to Research and 'Big Name' for Next CIRM President

The California stem cell agency should not hire a "big name" as its new president, and he or she should not be allowed to conduct research on the side, according to one of CIRM's watchdogs.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for the Taxpayer and Consumers Rights, sent a letter to CIRM today and issued a press release on the subject, following the ealier item ("Move with Dispatch") below in the California Stem Cell Report. (Also see Simpson's comment on that item in which he quotes an unidentified Oversight Committee.)

In his letter, Simpson said:

"The next president must be an extremely competent hands-on scientific administrator, who can set up and maintain transparent and accountable management systems. He or she must be able to interact with the public, state officials, legislators and the media in a transparent, honest and accountable fashion.

"In the past there has been some suggestion that the president might continue to maintain research laboratory as part of the president's role. This should not be allowed. The presidency of CIRM is more than a full-time job. A person trying to manage CIRM's activities and conduct meaningful research simultaneously would do justice to neither activity.

"Members of the search committee should avoid the temptation of seeking a 'big name' scientists known for his or her discoveries. The emphasis must be on the individual's skill in scientific management and administration."
Simpson's statement came as CIRM posted a seven-page document on its Web site describing proposed criteria for the new president. That document, coming only one day before the meeting of the presidential search subcommittee, will serve as the framework for that panel's discussion. Other background information relating to hiring a search firm, whether that process should be open to bids, timetable for hiring and "interim action" was not available. The lack of that information makes it extremely difficult for the public to comment intelligently and belies CIRM's ostensible commitment to openness and transparency.

Much of what is contained in the presidential criteria document, which presumably emanated from the office of stem cell Chairman Robert Klein, is predictable. A preliminary look, however, raises suspicions about whether it is a first step in shifting the existing balance between the president and the chairman (see the section on management reporting lines of authority). The overlapping, dual leadership at CIRM has been a troubling aspect of the agency since its earliest days, surfacing in public conflicts involving Klein and current President Zach Hall, who is retiring by about mid-year. Prop. 71 codified the dubious executive structure in a state law that is nearly impossible to change without another vote of the people.

The 3 p.m. meeting of the search subcommittee will be in San Francisco, but remote locations are available to the public in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, La Jolla, Ca., Carlsbad, Ca., Stanford University and the San Francisco city attorney's office. The agenda does not indicate specific room numbers in some cases. Email CIRM directly, info@cirm.ca.gov, or phone the agency at 415-396-9100 if you would like more details on the locations.

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