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State's Good Government Agency Calls for Reforms at Stem Cell Agency
Date:6/26/2009

Key 'Little Hoover' Recommendations Follow Consumer Watchdog's Proposals

SANTA MONICA, Calif., June 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- California's good government agency, The Little Hoover Commission, today called for management and structural reforms at the state stem cell agency after an eight-month study. Key Commission recommendations follow many proposals made by Consumer Watchdog in testimony to the panel last November.

The Commission said the oversight board for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) should be restructured around "principles of efficiency and transparency." It recommended reducing the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) from 29 members to 15 and clarifying the roles of the chairman and president.

"This is a thoughtful and thorough analysis from a bipartisan group with no ax to grind. CIRM's management and board should listen to its advice," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Stem Cell Project Director. "Once again, the agency is circling the wagons in defense and wasting taxpayer money. Instead of worrying about the Little Hoover Commission Report, the ICOC should be asking why the chief science officer, Dr. Marie Csete, is resigning after a little more than a year on the job."

The Commission said two of the reduced board's members should be independent business leaders and two should be independent scientists with no ties to CIRM-funded institutions. Five would be patient advocates; two would come from the University of California; one from a non-UC university; two from biotechnology companies and one from a California research institution. It would simply call the oversight body the Board of Directors.

"The ICOC is too large and cumbersome, has had difficulty in mustering a quorum and suffers from built-in conflicts," said Simpson. "The Commission's recommendations go along way toward fixing that."

The commission urged that the roles of the chairman and president be realigned "to eliminate overlapping authority and to enhance clarity and accountability." The president would manage all day-to-day operations.

The Commission said CIRM should improve efficiency and transparency for distributing grants and loans. It urged the stem cell agency to explore options for greater disclosure of the scientific peer review process. One suggestion was to poll CIRM's reviewers about their willingness to participate if their financial disclosure statements were made public.

The commission said that the Citizens' Financial Accountability Oversight Committee should conduct performance audits of CIRM and that members of the stem cell agency's board members should hold themselves more accountable by adopting removal provisions in the board's bylaws.

Finally, the Commission said the board should plan for CIRM's future through an open process.

"CIRM's staff has been working on a revised strategic plan since last fall," said Simpson. "It's urgent that it is completed and presented to the board. Frankly, I don't understand how CIRM presented the 2009-2010 budget without a revised strategic plan."

Read The Little Hoover Commission Report here: http://www.lhc.ca.gov/studies/198/report198.html

Read Consumer Watchdog's testimony to the Commission here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/Simpsontestimony.pdf

The Little Hoover Commission is an independent state oversight agency created in 1962. Its mission is to investigate state government operations and -- through reports, recommendations and legislative proposals -- promote efficiency, economy and improved service. The Commission is a balanced bipartisan board composed of five citizen members appointed by the Governor, four citizen members appointed by the Legislature, two Senators and two Assembly members.

Consumer Watchdog's Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project is working to ensure that California's landmark stem cell research program offers accessible and affordable cures and treatments to the taxpayers who have funded it. The program will sell $3 billion in bonds over a decade to fund stem cell research. Financing charges mean the project, the largest source of stem cell research funding in the world, will cost California taxpayers $6 billion.

Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca. Our website is www.consumerwatchdog.org.


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SOURCE Consumer Watchdog
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