Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oversight Panel to Review CIRM Finances Later This Month

The only state panel specifically charged with financial oversight of California $3 billion stem cell research effort meets later this month to examine its budget and review last fall's external review of CIRM's operations.

The Citizens Financial Accountability Oversight Committee is scheduled to convene in Los Angeles on Jan. 28, two days after a key panel of CIRM directors is expected to take up part of the committee's 12-month-old request to improve openness and transparency at CIRM.

The financial committee was created as part of Prop. 71, the ballot initiative that also created the stem cell research program. It is chaired by the state's top fiscal office, Controller John Chiang. CIRM is exempt by provisions of Prop. 71 from the normal oversight of the governor and the legislature.

While the committee is a sister to CIRM, the agency has distanced itself from the panel. CIRM successfully lobbied last year to remove from legislation a Chiang-supported provision that would have required the panel to commission a performance audit of the agency. Last February, shortly after the committee unanimously recommended more openness, CIRM President Alan Trounson described the committee's discussion of CIRM as a “strange critique” and “irrational attack.”  (See page 132 of the transcript of the board of directors meeting.)

Among the financial committee's recommendations was a proposal that CIRM post on its web site the statements of economic interests of its directors along with expense claims from directors and top staff. The proposal is to be taken up by the CIRM directors' Governance Subcommittee on Jan. 26 in Burlingame.

Also tap for the Jan. 28 financial committee meeting is discussion of a new law that removed the 50-person cap on CIRM staff. The change was made after Trounson said the quality of its work will suffer without more help. Currently CIRM has more than $1 billion committed to nearly 400 recipients. It has nearly another $2 billion go hand out.

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