Thursday, August 26, 2010

Legislation to Give CIRM More Employees Goes to Governor

Legislation to remove the 50 person cap on the size of the staff of the California stem cell agency won final legislative approval yesterday.

The measure, SB 1064 by Sen. Elaine Kontaminas Alquist, D-San Jose, is now on its way to the governor's desk where it is expected to be signed. The bill would go into effect at the beginning of the year.

The limit on the number of employees was written into law by the ballot initiative, Prop. 71, that created the $3 billion research effort. The cap was redundant since the agency has a legal limit on operational expenses. The restriction ultimately hampered the agency's ability to perform its work.

In addition to removing the staffing cap, the compromise bill would require performance audits, albeit limited, of CIRM beginning next year at the agency's expense, according to the latest state Senate analysis of the measure. It also allows the agency to pay the patient advocates who serve on its board up to $15,000 a year. The CIRM board has already acted to do so.

CIRM backed the bill after it was significantly watered down. Gone are many reforms recommended by the Little Hoover Commission, the state's good government agency, along with provisions sought by the state's top fiscal officer, Controller John Chiang.

They include elimination of a performance audit by a special, Prop. 71-created, financial oversight committee chaired by Chiang. Instead CIRM itself would pay ($400,000 plus) for the audit and control its scope. CIRM already has written into the bill a stipulation that the audit does not have to include “a review of scientific performance.”

The staff analysis of the bill that was presented yesterday when it cleared the Senate floor on a 35-0 vote said,
“The author's office states that, while stem cell research is an important and laudable goal, concerns about transparency, accountability and oversight raised by the public, the independent Citizen's Financial Accountability Oversight Committee, the Little Hoover Commission, and the state controller detract from CIRM's ability to provide grants and loans in the most efficient way.

“These concerns divert resources and attention from CIRM's ability to maximize voter's investment in stem cell sciences. In 2009 alone, CIRM spent $1.5 million in external contracts for legal services, lobbying, public relations and communications costs to improve its public image, which is a duplication of existing internal resources. Given that the debt from the bonds is serviced from the (state's) general fund, concern about CIRM's lack of transparency and accountability gains greater significance during these challenging fiscal times. By addressing many of these public concerns, this bill enhances CIRM's ability to make grants and loans, and the removal of such barriers frees up resources that were previously diverted from the grant and loan programs.”
According to the analysis, the CIRM performance audits would cover “programs, functions, operations, management systems, and policies and procedures to assess whether it is achieving economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the employment of available resources.”

The analysis also said it would be at least 10 years before CIRM is likely to generate revenue for the state through the results of the research it finances. The analysis said,
“Due to the time it takes research to be done and a product to be commercialized, the general fund is unlikely to see significant revenue until about 2020. The amount of revenues is unknown and depends on the number and types of drugs and technologies that are commercialized as well as their commercial success.”
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1 comment:

  1. High salaries can be justified by high results. Poor results cannot justify high salaries.

    Geron is on the launching pad, and the count down has begun. CIRM will not be on board with this first launch of ESC in the first US human trial. CIRM had contributed zip to Geron. Why? Geron will not take a loan from CIRM, as CIRM does not give grants to commercial entities. How stupid is that policy? It is most likely that the ground breaking round of ESC human trial will be performed by incorporated companies, rather than by university medical centers without wrapping the trial in an independent corporate entity. CIRM will contribute little to the ESC pioneering work in humans, as a result of not offering outright grants. It appear that CIRM is shifting its emphasis to iPS cell development. iPS cell development has no obstructions by the Republicans and the RR, which actually welcome iPS cells as a substitute for ESC. Thus, Federal funding is readily available for iPS (as well as adult SC) R&D. If Geron is successful in the upcoming ESC spinal trial, it will be crazy for it to take out a loan from CIRM to "dirty" up Geron's balance sheet. What are the terms of these loans anyways. Can the State foreclose on defaulting on loan terms? Any other catch-22's in the loan agreements?