Audit of Stem Cell Agency Finds Room for Improvement
The California Bureau of Audits on Tuesday released a performance review of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, raising some questions about conflict-of-interest and reimbursement policies at the agency, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The audit is intended to determine whether the agency's policies and procedures are transparent and legal (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/28).
California voters in 2004 approved Proposition 71 to create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and provide $3 billion in taxpayer funding over 10 years for stem cell research. The funding primarily was intended to finance human embryonic stem cell research, for which federal funds are restricted (California Healthline, 2/27).
The audit originally was recommended last year by former Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and endorsed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
The report noted that the state's Fair Political Practices Committee is concerned with a potential conflict of interest regarding out-of-state scientists who are members of the agency's grant review committee, which recommends grant recipients to the board.
The agency says the members are not required to publicly file financial disclosure statements because they are only advisers, but the state says the members make decisions on how public money is spent and therefore should be subject to public disclosure rules.
The auditors in the report recommend the agency obtain a formal opinion on the matter from the state attorney general.
Dale Carlson, an agency spokesperson, said, "Although [the out-of-state scientists] are paid a small fee ... They are not eligible to receive any of this grant money."
The report faulted the agency for failing to provide documentation for its policies determining how much revenue the state should receive from commercial stem cell therapies developed using grant money (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/28).
The report also criticized travel and meal reimbursement rules that "increasingly allowed for more generous reimbursements."
The report concluded that the agency "awarded multiple contracts without a competitive bidding process and did not maintain documents that demonstrated it received reasonable prices on the goods and services it purchased."
The report noted that agency officials already have changed some of their operations and policies and have pledged to make more improvements.
The agency did not support the report's recommendations to improve its conflict-of-interest policy for awarding grants (Johnson, San Jose Mercury News, 2/28).
The decision by the stem cell agency to accept legislative audits and input "was the correct outcome required to build continued public support," a San Francisco Chronicle editorial states. "The audits have the power to keep the institute on track to meet strategic goals and avoid conflicts," according to the Chronicle. "The potential for discoveries should be magnified as research expands up and down the state" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.