Friday, January 04, 2008

CIRM's Klein Beefs Up His Staff

Less than one year ago, the directors of the California stem cell agency cut back to three the size of the staff of the chairman, Robert Klein, in an effort to make the job of president of the $3 billion effort more appealing to candidates seeking to fill the post.

Today, CIRM has its new president. And the authorized staff for Klein's office has ballooned to eight, which may not seem large, unless one considers that it amounts to about one-third of CIRM's tiny and overworked contingent.

The new positions were approved with little discussion last month by members of CIRM's Oversight Committee. Interim CIRM President Richard Murphy, who is being replaced by Alan Trounson, presented the positions to the board as part of a staff reorganization supported by Trounson. Murphy indicated Trounson may seek to modify the organization further as he settles in.

CIRM has been bedeviled by a dual executive structure, locked into state law as the result of being codified as part of Proposition 71 and which has played a role in conflicts between Chairman Klein and former President Zach Hall. At one point last year, Murphy, then a member of the Oversight Committee, called the management structure a "dog's breakfast."

Some observers say the structure now in place puts the agency firmly under Klein's control, and they expect Trounson to fill a much different role than Hall performed. They also say that Klein's dominance has played a role in the recent troublesome staff turnover – eight departures since October.

(Klein is a multimillionaire real estate investment banker who does not accept a salary for his position at the state agency. He has testified in court that he does not consider himself a state employee.)

The latest organizational structure calls for a new director of finance, legal and governmental affairs, who will have three staff members – all within the chairman's office. An associate legal counsel has also been shifted away from the president and works outside of the regular purview of CIRM's general counsel. Trounson reports directly to Klein.

No salary is listed on the web site for a director of finance, legal and governmental affairs, and the position is not currently listed as open for applicants. One position that is currently being advertised is for a chief operating officer, who will work under Trounson, and who should free him from much of the tedious work of the agency. No salary is listed for that position as well, but it could be as much as $270,000 annually, which is the top end of the range for the chief scientific officer, a parallel position that is vacant.

Formal organizational structures are sometimes nothing more than wish lists. But some time and effort have obviously been put into this one to deal with both Klein's and Trounson's desires. How it all works will play out during the next year. But management problems are a continuing issue at CIRM. And it is clear that CIRM needs to halt the turnover in employees and hire new staff as quickly as possible.

(An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that the chief communications officer reports to both the chairman and the president.)

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