Sunday, March 11, 2018

Performance Audit of California Stem Cell Agency: Improvements Needed in $200 Million Fund-Raising Program, Staff Retention and Use of Board Members

A performance audit of California's $3 billion stem cell agency says that more needs to be done to retain the agency's staff as well as exploiting the talents of  board members as the research effort nears what could be its demise.

"There is a significant potential for staff attrition as CIRM plans for a potential wind-down," the $230,000 study by Moss Adams declared. CIRM is the abbreviation for the agency's official name,nthe California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

The 38-page report also said that expertise of  the 29 board members "could be more effectively leveraged, especially since strong board engagement will be particularly important during organizational transition."

CIRM has estimated it will run out of cash for new awards in 2019 unless ambitious fund-raising plans are successful.  Its ultimate hope is that California voters will approve another multi-billion dollar bond measure in November 2020. To bridge the financial gap between 2019 and the end of 2020, the agency is seeking to raise more than $200 million.

Loss of employees has long been a concern of the agency as it confronts the expiration of the bond funding provided by the ballot initiative that created the program in 2004.

The performance audit said the agency should be "building on efforts to date, continue to regularly communicate transition plans to staff and consider strategies to retain employees, including implementing staff development programs, recognition and reward opportunities, work-life balance initiatives, and cross-functional initiatives."

Beyond its recommendations, the audit had praise for the agency. One example involved its "culture." The report said,
"CIRM has a collaborative, engaged, and performance-oriented culture. Managers, board members, and staff report improved morale and a more collaborative culture since CIRM 2.0 implementation. CIRM appointed a new president in 2014 and again in 2016. Turnover is often elevated during times of leadership transitions, as noted in 2014 and 2015. However, CIRM’s turnover rate dropped to 10 percent in 2016, suggesting stability in the organization’s leadership and culture."
Moss Adams, however, also said more can be done. It said the agency should "develop succession plans for the chair and vice chair, document knowledge of individuals serving in leadership roles, and continue to identify potential highly qualified prospective (board) members."

The audit recommended improvements in the agency's fund-raising efforts. It said the agency has not "formalized its ($200 million) fund development plan." The audit recommended creation of "a formal development plan that identifies roles and responsibilities and the timing of fundraising activities to meet CIRM’s programmatic and administrative funding needs."

Moss Adams additionally recommended improvements in measuring the performance of the agency's public relations program. It said,
"CIRM does not have metrics associated with the effectiveness of the agency’s communication and public education strategy. Recommendation: Develop communications and public education metrics that are integrated into CIRM’s quarterly reporting."
The study, which is required by state law, is the third conducted by Moss Adams. It will be discussed at Tuesday's meeting of the agency's board. The agenda for that meeting said the agency will have a response to the audit findings, but that document is not yet available on the CIRM web site.

The audit, which is required by state law, is the agency's third. Links and excerpts from items involving the previous two can be found here. 

Interested parties can participate in the meeting at 16 different locations throughout California. The  locations can be found on the agenda, but more specifics may be necessary for those who want to attend. They can be had by sending an email to

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