Thursday, January 15, 2009

Klein Ducks Little Hoover Questions

Late last year a California government efficiency agency investigating the state's $3 billion stem cell research effort asked its chairman, Robert Klein, what changes he would make in it after four years of experience.

Klein's response came in the form of what one might call a "modified stonewall." He will not answer the question because it would be "inappropriate" for him to give his views.

The matter involves the Little Hoover Commission, a state department charged with analyzing the performance of other state entities, and which has held one public hearing concerning CIRM. The commission's staffers and some of its members have also attended some CIRM meetings and interviewed other persons with an interest in the agency.

On Nov. 26, the Hoover commission sent a letter requesting Klein's views, a request first made at its hearing earlier that month. The letter asked for an answer by Dec. 15. On Dec. 19, Klein tried to rope in members of the CIRM board in fashioning a response, declaring that it would be "inappropriate" for him to respond, although he frequently says he wrote Prop. 71, the measure that created CIRM in 2004.

However, at least two board members balked. According to the transcript of the directors Legislative Subcommittee on Dec. 19, board member Jeff Sheehy, a communications manager at UC San Francisco, said,
"I would rather you just wrote the letter based on the items that you think are important."
Claire Pomeroy, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine, told Klein,
"It's asking your opinion about writing the initiative, which was the process that happened before the board even existed. so it seems to me that it is appropriate for you to clarify your personal testimony in response to this letter."
Francisco Prieto, a Sacramento physician and CIRM board member, supported Klein's attempts to develop some sort of board consensus on changes.

During the meeting Klein indicated he would poll board members and perhaps staff about recommendations on possible changes.

Sheehy strongly objected to a detailed, full board review on the questions that the Little Hoover Commission directed to Klein. Sheehy warned that it could generate internal controversy that could have "negative consequences."

He said the board should focus on more important, unfinished work. Sheehy said,
"We're still working on trying to get a strategic plan for this institute....I can go down the list. We're still trying to get grants out. We're still trying to figure out a prescreening process. So there's a lot of the nitty-gritty stuff about our work we need to do."
On Dec. 22, Klein wrote a five-page letter to the Hoover Commission that said the "board is working well." He said the size of the board is beneficial because it provides diversity of viewpoints. He defended its conflict of interest rules, but did not mention the case of a director being investigated by the state for actions taken on the advice of Klein personally. He defended CIRM's transparency but did not discuss its perennial failure to provide timely public, Internet access to important background material on many proposals(including their texts) to be acted on at directors' meetings.

He also reiterated his refusal to give his personal opinion about changes. However, in the past he has publicly stated that the 50 person cap on staff was a mistake. He also has acknowledged attendance problems at board meetings, which often make it impossible to do business officially. Those problems stem from the structure of the board and its super-majority quorum requirements that are locked into state law. He also has supported triaging or prescreening grant applications because of difficulties with the grant review process.

We have asked CIRM for copies of the responses to Klein's queries concerning recommendations for changes. We will carry those when we receive them.

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