Tuesday, June 24, 2008

CIRM Directors to Give Away Millions, No Details Available

With only two days left before the board of directors meeting of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, its public agenda is nearly bereft of any significant information for the public, other than cryptic references.

It is not a trivial matter. CIRM directors plan to give away $26 million at the end of the week and authorize another $60 million in grant programs. Neither of those figures can be detected, however, by examining the "topline" of the directors' agenda.

Indeed, the fact that CIRM's board of directors is meeting is not even of enough significance to be posted on CIRM's home page – although the directors will also be dealing with FDA concerns about hESC clinical trials, how California businesses could benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollar from CIRM research as well as the agency's 46 percent increase in its operating budget.

For those of you not totally familiar with CIRM, it is an arm of the state of California – not a "quasi-public" agency as it has sometimes been described. It is enshrined in the state Constitution. It is subject to the public records and open meetings laws of the state, which declare that the public has a "broadly construed" right to access to information about state governmental matters.

However, CIRM is denying the public and interested parties any timely, specific knowledge of the matters to be decided this Thursday and Friday in Burlingame, Ca., a longstanding CIRM practice for directors meetings, with a few exceptions. Nor will the public have a chance to listen in or participate in the actual meeting via the Internet or teleconferencing, technologies easily accessible to CIRM.

Meetings of the full board of directors of the agency have never been broadcast via the Internet or via teleconferencing. However, directors subcommittees are widely available via teleconferencing in many specific locations in California and even a couple of times in Australia. But those have been a matter of convenience for directors – not the public.

Twenty-eight items are on the agenda this week. As of Tuesday, only one item has an Internet link to background information. Bob Klein, chairman of CIRM, has repeatedly pledged to comply with the highest standards of openness and transparency. Nonetheless, the agency has been generally plagued with a failure to post background material sufficiently in advance of meetings to give the public or interested parties a chance to decide whether to attend the directors' meeting or even formulate a cogent response. At several points, even CIRM directors complained about the not getting material in time.

Our understanding is that the responsibility for the board of directors' agenda lies with Chairman Klein. We are asking Klein for comment on this state of affairs.

(If you want information about the $26 million grant programs mentioned in the second paragraph of this item, you can find it on the California Stem Cell Report – not on CIRM's agenda. The $60 million proposed grant program is the only item that is linked via the agenda. You can find information on that program here.)

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