Friday, June 20, 2008

$13 Million Approved for CIRM Operations

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Finance Subcommittee of the California stem cell agency Thursday approved a 46 percent increase in its 2008-09 budget, which will total $13 million and push staffing close to the legal limit of 50.

The panel of CIRM directors made no changes in the budget that was presented by CIRM staff. Their questions largely centered on clarifying line items in the budget.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein and director Jeff Sheehy both defended an increase in travel that seems to be up at least 287 percent from the current year, for a total of $558,000. However, that figure is for "other travel." Travel expenditures are also lodged in other budget areas, but were not broken out for Thursday's meeting.

Citing this week's agreements with Canada and the Australian state of Victoria, Klein said more collaboration is expected internationally. He indicated that travel is expected to both Great Britain and Washington, D.C. -- this to deal with federal stem cell legislation and regulation.

Klein said the agency "really needs to have our science teams to have access to leading-edge research." He said meetings with other scientists help CIRM prepare grant proposals that effectively target the most promising areas of research. Sheehy said that while some persons tend to regard travel as something of a boondoggle, "The conferences are very important. This is really work."

John M. Simpson
, stem cell project director for the Consumer Watchdog group of Santa Monica, Ca., praised the budget generally but said more detail was needed for it to be fully understood.

The budget is well within Prop. 71 limits, according to CIRM, based on average allowable allocations. Those allocations showed that CIRM will be spending $1.8 million next year on legal expenses, up from $1.2 million this year. That includes its own legal staff and outside legal contracts.

The budget goes to the full board of directors next week, where it is expected to be approved.

We have asked CIRM to provide a breakdown of travel expenses in all categories and a breakdown on external contracts. We will carry that information when we receive it. We also asked Klein to clarify the organizational changes noted in the budget. He said he would get back to us on the language in the spending plan.

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