Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New CIRM Figures Show 25 Percent Budget Increase

SAN DIEGO – The California stem cell agency is proposing a nearly $13 million budget for the next fiscal year, a 25 percent increase over its estimated spending this year.

The largest component of the budget goes for salaries and benefits, which are projected at $7.4 million for 47 employees. That is $1.9 million more than this year's estimated figure of $5.5 million. Personnel costs next year amount to an average of roughly $150,000 in salaries and benefits for each CIRM employee.

The figures are drawn from budget documents posted yesterday on the CIRM Web site. They contain far more details than the spending plan offered last week. CIRM directors were not entirely pleased and asked for more information before taking up the budget today or tomorrow at their meeting here.

Still missing from the budget information are CIRM staff calculations for the percentage increases and decreases in spending for the next fiscal year compared to estimated spending for the current fiscal year. Any such comparisons in this article are the responsibility of the California Stem Cell Report.

Other than salaries and benefits, the next largest budget category is outside contracts. CIRM did not compile total figures, instead placing them in at least three different categories. Out calculations show that they appear to be close to $3.1 million. It is difficult to make a comparison to the previous year because of changes in the way CIRM calculates the figures.

Travel for the upcoming year, which begins in three weeks, is budgeted at $497,000, which is $209,000 or 73 percent more than this year's estimated $288,000.

The CIRM staff presented a 3-page justification for the travel, which includes oversea trips and lobbying expeditions to Washington, D.C. CIRM said travel by Chairman Robert Klein and others in his office (six employees) to the nation's Capitol is necessary for lobbying purposes. They include building support for federal tax exemptions for the California bonds that finance research grants, which could save $400 million, and lobbying for federal loan guarantees for CIRM's $500 million lending program for the biotech industry. The office of the chairman is allotted $148,000 for travel.

As for international forays by CIRM President Alan Trounson, his office (five employees) is provided $83,00 for travel. The budget material said he is central to CIRM's international agreements and must travel to Washington as well.

The science office (25 employees) accounts for $204,000 in travel, which CIRM said is needed to maintain leadership in stem cell science and to stay abreast of the field.

CIRM signaled it is dumping its troubled Grantium grants management program. It identified grants management as a “risk” and “critical” for CIRM It said that Grantium has not met all of CIRM's needs.

CIRM said the budget contains funds to create a new grant management program, but did not specify the amount. The budget does not appear to contain a straight-forward accounting of all the past costs associated with the Grantium program or the projected cost of the new system. It appears to be something in the neighborhood of $610,000. The amount may be on top of the more than $800,000 allotted in the past for the troubled Grantium program. That figure, however, probably is low.

Possibly linked to the grant management issues are future research grants, although CIRM did not specifically tie them to the problems.

CIRM said,
“Many of the more clinical (grant) programs will have complicated milestones and 'go-no-go' decision points, detailed risk and efficacy data and decisions regarding maturity and development with multiple partners. Such evaluation will require new capacity in the science office and the office of the general counsel.”
Links to all the budget documents can be found on the board's agenda this week.

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