Wednesday, April 09, 2008

CIRM Executive Salaries Take a Hit

Should the president of the California stem cell agency, with roughly 26 employees, be paid $300,000 more annually than the director of the National Institutes of Health, which has nearly 19,000 staffers?

No, according to the Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca. Its stem cell project director, John M. Simpson, says,
"CIRM's salaries are ridiculously out of whack."
Writing on the blog of the Consumer Watchdog, a group once known as the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, Simpson offers as the chief support for his view the following salaries for NIH executives:

"Elias Zerhouni, Director, NIH: $191,300 (increased in January from $186,600)
John Niederhuber, Director, National Cancer Institute: $247,500
Francis Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute: $300,000
Story Landis, Director, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes: $260,000"

Simpson's figures come via reporter Jim Downing of The Sacramento Bee, who obtained them from the NIH.

Simpson compares them to the $490,000 salary earned by CIRM President Alan Trounson and the $310,000 being paid to Marie Csete, recently hired as CIRM's chief scientific officer.

The salaries have recently come under increased fire because of the state's budget crisis. Salaries of public servants are always lightning rods, even in the best of times. They are far easier for the media and the public to understand than some of the financial inequities created by Prop. 13, the property tax initiative approved years ago and that now, in many ways, cripples local government in California.

The CIRM salaries are also dwarfed by the pay of some physicians within the University of California system, who earn more than $750,000 a year. And they are tiny compared to the wages earned by some of the men at UC who supervise boys running and throwing balls. Their pay can approach $2 million annually.

Nonetheless the salaries at CIRM are a perception problem, at the very least. The agency must develop a stout defense for them, which it does not seem to currently have. Otherwise, CIRM will continue to suffer attacks from critics who find the pay levels extreme.

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