Thursday, January 10, 2008

FTCR: Is CIRM 'Missing the Laboratory for the Test Tubes?'

The California stem cell agency is wrestling currently with a host of touchy issues in addition to the biggest round of grants in its history. Some of those matters surfaced last month and will surface again next week when the Oversight Committee also decides which institutions move on to the next round in the $263 million lab grant offering.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights, offers this commentary on some of those issues and how CIRM is approaching them.
"I mentioned in passing the other day that I think the ICOC folks sometimes miss the forest for the trees. (Maybe I should use a different metaphor, perhaps miss the laboratory for the test tubes?)

"Here's what I mean: Apparently everyone was worried at the last Governance Committee meeting about the bad image they might get if they use the word 'limousine' in the travel policy. But when a major restructuring of the institute's management structure is presented, it just sails through with nary a thought or comment.

"When Zach Hall was president he had seven direct reports. The new organizational chart shows Alan Trounson with only two, plus an administrative assistant. That is a substantial change in management philosophy and substance.

"I also expect the two managers reporting to him, the chief science officer and the chief operating office will command substantial salaries as both are to be either Ph.Ds or MDs. I tried to get at some of this in the December Governance Meeting when I ask on Page 30 of the transcript what their salaries and the salary of the director of finance and legal affairs will be.

"Re-reading Rich Murphy's response to my concern that the agency will be top heavy (Page 31), I have serious questions about Trounson's role. Here's what Murphy said:

"'I also want to be sure Alan has the guidance around him for him to be able not only to lead the institute, but for him to be the visionary leader of the institute. So he is going to have to keep his eyes on the field, he's going to have to be out on the road participating in meetings learning about new directions of the field. And when he comes back, one of the things he's going to have to do is to bounce off his ideas with high level leaders who are of his quality scientifically...'

"Just what is Trounson going to do day-to-day? Is he going to run the institute or is going to be spending more time on the road going from one conference to another around the world while the CSO and COO -- both with big salaries -- manage things?

"I'm not saying the new management structure is necessarily the wrong approach. My point is that it's a substantial departure from past practice and I'd have thought oversight committee members would have wanted to discuss it in detail in public.

"I would think the ICOC should be having a serious conversation about how this is going to work. I don't think anybody has focused on it, and it's much more important than whether someone takes an airport limo rather than a taxi."

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