Monday, December 07, 2009

Info Dribbling Out for CIRM Directors Meeting Wednesday

Directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency meet in only two days, but only just now are details beginning to emerge about what they plan to decide and why.

On Friday, the skimpy directors agenda was virtually barren of background information on the CIRM Web site. Some information for the public, businesses and researchers began to appear yesterday and more today.

Now up is a 10-page report supporting continuation of the triage process for grant applications, an $80 million proposal for early translational grants, a one-page status report on the CIRM budget (no evident problems), the routine CIRM annual audit and appointment of an administrative chairman for the group that makes the de facto decisions on CIRM grants.

CIRM staff has nominated John Sladek, professor of pediatric and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, as the administrative head of the Grants Working Group, on which he has served on for about two years.

Missing from the agenda is any background information on the proposed salary increase for Vice Chairman Art Torres, who has been paid $75,000 a year for half-time work. He has been in the position since last March.

Also missing:
  • The chairman's report, which has never been available but which often contains important information
  • Wording of proposed changes in how the grant reviewers operate
  • Justification for new action on a $16 million disease team grant to Don Cleveland of the Ludwig Institute, Samuel Pfaff of Salk and Lawrence Goldstein of UC San Diego
  • Background on the proposed modification of terms of the $230 million disease team round
  • Wording and justification for a change in the conflict of interest appeals policy, which CIRM describes as a “correction”
  • And the rationale for creation of a directors subcommittee on communications with the public, including the media.
Failure to post background material in time for interested parties, including businesses and researchers, to react with well-considered comment has plagued CIRM for some time. That, despite the California constitutional “guarantee” that the public has “the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business.”

As the Sunlight Foundation of Washington, D.C., points out,
“Public oversight, civic participation and electoral engagement—the stuff of democratic accountability—all depend on a transparent, open government.

“Indeed, transparency and openness are the very foundations for public trust; without the former the latter cannot survive.”
The foundation also notes,
“Information cannot be considered public if it is available only inside a government building, during limited hours or for a fee. In the 21st century, information is properly described as 'public' only if it is available online, 24/7, for free, in some kind of reasonably parseable format. Almost all of our public sphere is now online, and our public information should be there, too.”
The CIRM directors meeting begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Stanford with an offsite teleconference location at the City of Hope in the Los Angeles area. The meeting will be audiocast on the Internet, but no public participation is possible through the Internet. However, it is possible to send comments via the Internet to CIRM officials using this email address: You can ask that email comments be read by staff during the public comment period, but there is no guarantee that will occur. Details of the audiocast and City of Hope address are available on the agenda.

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