Sunday, March 04, 2007

New Structure for a New CIRM President

The California stem cell agency is cleaning up its troublesome, dual executive issues and shifting power to the presidency of the $3 billion institute and away from the chairman's office.

The move is linked to the search for a new president for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The current CEO, Zach Hall, plans to leave around June. Overlapping responsibilities and the resulting differences between Hall and CIRM Chairman Robert Klein have surfaced publicly in the past. (See "Dualing Execs: Touchy Issues.") Clearer lines of authority and creation of a non-executive chairman's office should enhance recruitment of top-flight candidates for the job, so the reasoning goes.

One patient advocate, who has watched CIRM closely since its inception, worried, however, that the new structure would turn the chairman and the Oversight Committee into "powerless figureheads."

In his Feb. 26 posting on, Don Reed wrote:
"Bob Klein is the one man who understands the whole thing. Removing him from power is like taking Walt Disney away from Walt Disney enterprises."
Reed was commenting on restructuring of CIRM management that was approved, with an aye vote from Klein, Feb. 21 by the CIRM Governance Subcommittee. The changes now must be approved by the Oversight Committee at its meeting later this month. Months ago, Klein indicated he would step down from his position in 2008.

Among other things, the changes would:

-- Limit to four instead of 10 the number of employees in the office of the chair, including one for the vice chair. (CIRM has only 22 employees.)

-- Place the "Policy Office" under the president instead of the chair. That office implements Oversight Committee directives "through outreach" to the state legislature, Congress and other constituents. The president also would implement legislative policies of the Oversight Committee.

-- Require the concurrence of the chair in only the hiring of the chief legal officer, instead both the legal officer and the chief communications officer.

-- Clarify that all CIRM employees, except for the chair and vice chair, report to the president and remove language that stipulated the president and the chair "work out" office assignments.

-- Restructure CIRM's executive committee, giving the president more explicit control of its composition.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpaper and Consumers Rights, said the changes were a "step in the right direction." He said that the new policy was drawn up by CIRM Vice Chair "Ed Penhoet with consultation from Tina Nova, Richard Murphy and Phil Pizzo (all Oversight Committee members) after interviews with all CIRM employees."

As we have reported, CIRM's management structure, dictated in many ways by Prop. 71, has led to unnecessary difficulties. The changes would seem to create cleaner lines of authority and help to avoid ambiguities that generate confusion and conflict. But organizational charts are still only so much paper. They require persons of great skill, good will and energy to make them work.

The old and new "internal governance" policies can be found at in links on the agenda for the Feb. 21 governance subcommittee meeting. We are told that only minor word changes were made then in the proposed new policy.

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