Stem cell budget needs explanation

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California’s  stem cell oversight committee takes up the agency’s 2008-2009 $13.04 million budget at its meeting Thursday and Friday near San Francisco Airport  and members should demand  a deeper explanation its key assumptions.

The new spending plan for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is a 46 percent increase from this fiscal year’s $8.92 million.  Much of the rise is due to an increase in staff from 37 employees to 44.5 employees.  Most of the staff increase — six positions — is in the hardworking scientific office.

The Independent Citizens Oversight Committee’s financial committee last week approved  sending the budget to the full board.  Nonetheless, board members and the public would benefit from a clearer explanation of how some amounts were reached.

For instance, "other travel" soars 287 percent from $144, 000 to $558,00. The reason?

"The increase will allow staff to keep abreast of the scientific status and needs and priorities within each portfolio area(s) of focus to better move the science forward through CIRM’s funding programs. The staff will attend clinical meetings in several speciality areas, engineering meetings as well as biology meetings across stem cell disciplines in order for CIRM to have an integrated picture of state of the art and forward-looking research agendas."

The budget puts $261,000 in the science oiffice for travel, $66,000 in the office of administration,  $72,000 in the officer of  President Alan Trounson and $145,000 in the office of Chairman Bob Klein.  Klein’s travel budget is virtually the same as the  $144,000 "other travel" budget for the entire agency this year.

I’m not saying the increases are unjustified; I just don’t know.  I’m saying everyone would  be better served and the agency would be more likely to get public support if the  the assumptions behind the travel numbers are spelled out.

I did a little arithmetic  myself and figured that if the average trip costs $3,000 they’ve got a budget budget for 185 trips or 4 trips per employee for the year.  CIRM would average more than three people on the road every week of the year and that doesn’t include travel to ICOC meetings.

It may all make perfect sense, but one thing is crystal clear:  It would be much easier to support the budget enthusiastically if the assumptions were spelled out. That’s how it’s usually done.

Similarly, the 2008-2009 budget foresees a 50 percent increase in external contracts from $1.81 million to $2.72 million.  There is no list of amounts to which entities.  Somebody must have that list.

Providing it with the the budget as it goes before the ICOC sure would make life simpler for everyone.


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