Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Financial Review of California's Multi-billion Dollar Stem Cell Research Agency Slated for Friday

One of the more obscure entities in state government is scheduled to meet this Friday to review the financial affairs of California's stem cell agency, a matter that now runs to nearly $12 billion.

The panel is the Citizen's Financial Accountability Oversight Committee (CFAOC), which was created in 2004 along with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the stem cell agency is formally known. The CFAOC is charged with reviewing the financial practices of the stem cell agency. The CFAOC is the only state panel legally charged with that function. The governor and the legislature have no authority to do so.

However, the CFAOC does not have authority to require changes by CIRM. It can only make recommendations.

Friday's agenda appears to be routine. However, some members of the committee may have comments on the approval of Proposition 14, which saved CIRM from financial extinction with $5.5 billion in money that the state will have to borrow.

Including Proposition 14, CIRM will cost taxpayers an estimated $11.8 billion by the time its funding runs out again in 10 to 15 years. Of that total, an estimated $3.3 billion will go for interest on the $8.5 billion in state funding for the agency, including the period since 2004. 

CIRM is likely to spend more than the $8.5 billion, however, because Proposition 14 provides for using private funds to hire additional personnel for the agency beyond a nominal cap of 70. CIRM has never had more than 62 employees and currently has about 33, two less than the 35 members of its governing board. 

On the CFAOC agenda are routine audits of the agency that have not identified any particular issues and presentations of previously reported budget plans. However, the meeting may include some discussion of CIRM's future, but don't look for a critical evaluation.

The last meeting of the CFAOC was in August 2019. State law requires an annual meeting. No meeting was held in 2018.

The chair of the panel is Betty Yee, the elected state controller. Other members include:
  • Jim Lott, a psychologist and former health care industry executive specializing in health care organizations and strategic thinking. 
  • Mark Fischer-Colbrie, CEO of Strateos,  Inc., of Menlo Park, Ca., and for chair of the international board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which is closely linked to Robert Klein, the sponsor of Proposition 14
  • Michael Quick, a former provost at USC who left that post in 2019 to return to teaching. The Los Angeles Times wrote, "As the university’s top academic officer, Quick handled many of the complaints against former medical school Dean Carmen Puliafito, who The Times revealed used drugs and partied with criminals during his tenure. Quick reprimanded the dean and ultimately forced him to step down in 2016." 
Puliafito was once a member of the CIRM governing board. USC has received more than $114 million in CIRM awards.

Below is the text of state law concerning the CFAOC and the scope of its authority, which does not include an evaluation of its scientific performance. 
"There shall be a Citizen's Financial Accountability Oversight Committee chaired by the Controller. This committee shall review the annual financial audit, the Controller's report and evaluation of that audit, the financial practices of the institute. The Controller, the Treasurer, the President pro Tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Chairperson of the ICOC shall each appoint a public member of the committee. Committee members shall have medical or patient advocacy backgrounds and knowledge of relevant financial matters. The committee shall provide recommendations on the institute's financial practices and performance. The Controller shall provide staff support. The committee shall hold a public meeting, with appropriate notice, and with a formal public comment
period. The committee shall evaluate public comments and include appropriate summaries in its annual report. The ICOC shall provide funds for all costs associated with the per diem expenses of the committee members and for publication of the annual report."

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