Monday, May 24, 2010

State's Top Fiscal Officer Lauds Disclosure Proposal Likely to Affect CIRM

State Controller John Chiang, chairman of a key panel overseeing the California stem cell agency, today praised proposed NIH financial disclosure rules that are almost certain to have an impact on CIRM, one that the agency has avoided so far.

Chiang, the state's top fiscal officer, is head of the Citizens Financial Accountability Oversight Committee(CFAOC), a sister group to CIRM and one that was also created by Prop. 71.

Chiang was commenting on the NIH's new, proposed regulations that are likely to lead to the public disclosure of the financial interests of the reviewers who make de facto decisions on $3 billion in CIRM grants. The stem cell agency has adamantly refused to release the conflict-of-interest information.

In remarks made in response to a query from the California Stem Cell Report, Chiang said,
"I applaud the NIH's proposal to improve transparency and accountability by publicly posting financial disclosure reports of scientists and researchers who receive NIH funding. In January, the Citizens Financial Accountability Oversight Committee, which I chair, voted to post our members' statements of economic interest on our website, and to urge CIRM's governing board members and staff to post the same information on the CIRM website.

"As I said at the time, Californians voted to provide billions of public dollars to find cures for chronic, debilitating and deadly diseases that affect millions of Americans each year. To ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent lawfully, wisely and successfully - and to maintain the public's confidence in their investment - CIRM must pursue the highest standards of transparency."
Although the CFAOC is a creature of the legal draftsmanship of CIRM Chairman Robert Klein and others, the agency has moved away from the panel after facing its questions. In recent legislative negotiations, CIRM representatives were successful in removing a provision that would require the Chiang panel to conduct the first-ever performance audit of the CIRM and its board of directors. Now, the bill, SB1064 by Sen. Elaine Kontominas Alquist, D-San Jose, instead contains a provision for a performance audit that would be commissioned by CIRM itself rather than by an outside group.

The CFOAC recommendations for more accountability and transparency at CIRM triggered a smattering of negative newspaper articles. Michael Hiltzik, a business columnist for the Los Angeles Times, the state's largest newspaper, said CIRM should exemplify not only good science, but good government. A scathing San Diego Union-Tribune editorial carried the headline, “Stem-cell shenanigans / Lawmakers should force state institute to shape up.”

Both Chiang and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger post online the statements of their top officials along with their expense claims. Chiang's listing of the material is much more user friendly than the governor's, which are harder to find and harder to navigate.

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