Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Riverside Newspaper: 'Ethical Minefield' Still Not Cleared at Stem Cell Agency

The California stem cell agency's attempts to deal with the conflict of interest problems at the $3 billion research program amount to a minor fix that is not a “serious solution,” the Riverside Press-Enterprise editorialized yesterday.

The editorial came as the agency launches a road trip campaign to convince newspaper editorial boards around the state that the agency is worthy of continued financial support. The agency will run out of money for new grants in less than four years.

The Riverside editorial pointed to the blue-ribbon Institute of Medicine report in December that called for creation of a new, independent majority on the 29-member board. None of the current members are independent. The ballot measure that created the agency required board members to be appointed from various constituencies.

The newspaper said,
“That arrangement is hardly a model of objective decision making. The agency so far has distributed about $1.7 billion in grants, with about 90 percent of that money going to institutions represented on the governing board. 
“Voluntary abstentions are not a serious solution to that ethical minefield. Nor would that approach eliminate potential conflicts, because the agency would still allow the abstaining members to take part in the discussions and debate about who should get the grants. 
“The Institute of Medicine instead recommended remaking the board with truly independent members who have no stake in grant awards. The stem-cell agency rejected that step because it would require changing Prop. 71, either through a super-majority in the Legislature or another ballot measure. That excuse should be a vivid warning to Californians about the dangers of passing complex, costly and inflexible initiatives. 
“Agencies handling billions of taxpayers’ dollars should not avoid good government practice or basic fiscal safeguards. The stem-cell institute offers minor fixes when it needs substantial changes — and legislators should not accept that cavalier approach.”

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