Thursday, April 12, 2012

California Stem Cell Agency Cited for Improvements in Transparency

IRVINE, Ca. – The $3 billion California stem cell agency was praised this week for making progress in accountability and transparency during the last year.

The comments came from a representative of California state Controlller John Chiang, the state's top fiscal officer and who also chairs the only state entity specifically charged with financial oversight of the stem cell agency and its board.

Ruth Holton-Hodson, deputy state controller, told the blue-ribbon Institute of Medicine panel examining the performance of the stem cell agency that the controller's office "would like to acknowledge the progress the new leadership has made in the last year towards making CIRM a far more transparent and accountable agency than it has been in the past."

CIRM has a new chairman, J.T. Thomas, a Los Angeles financier, who has been in place since the beginning of last July. He succeeded Bob Klein, who was the initial agency chairman and who took office in 2004.

In her testimony at the IOM hearing here on Tuesday, Holton-Hodson discussed previous problems that CIRM had with the transparency of its budget. She said,
"We are very pleased that CIRM’s new leadership recognized this as a problem and quickly adopted a much more transparent budget format which is broken down by function. To make CIRM’s expenditures as transparent as possible, we have also recommended that they post the annual budget on the website. Again, we’re pleased to say that the new leadership has agreed to do this."
She also said,
"At our most recent meeting (of the Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee), we also recommended that CIRM post all of its private donations and they have agreed to do this."
Holton-Hodson criticized the dual executive arrangement at CIRM that is written into law by Proposition 71. She said,
"It is difficult to uphold the appearance of accountability and objectivity when the board chair has direct line authority over some CIRM staff positions. In essence under the current model, the chair is responsible for evaluating and approving some of the work of the chair.

"While this issue is still outstanding, it is important to acknowledge that the current leadership has made significant progress in more clearly delineating the responsibilities of the chair and the president."
Here is the full text of Holton-Hodson's remarks.Statement from California state controller's office to IOM-CIRM panel April 10, 2012

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