What happened to stem cell agency’s $400K grant for an international meeting?

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Back in December leaders of California’s stem cell agency were in a big rush to push through a $400,000 grant so the International Society for Stem Cell Research could hold its annual meeting in San Francisco in 2010.

 "They need a decision so that they can do their planning, and they can start acknowledging us as a co-sponsor immediately," John Robson vice president for operations told the oversight board, known as the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC).

"They have facilities they have to lock down and secure," said ICOC Chairman Bob Klein.

But ICOC member Claire Pomeroy, Dean of the UC Davis Medical School, struck a blow for responsible stewardship of  California Institute for Regenerative Medicine  (CIRM) money and said she didn’t want to approve the request without a budget. She noted that the ICOC was already planning a special telephone meeting within 10 says and urged the grant be taken up then with appropriate documentation.

Without taking a vote, the board agreed to that course.

That "budget" request was released and I said at the time it was a rather unimpressive justification.  In fact, it was presented using CIRM software that automatically tacked on $20,000 as 5% for indirect costs, an amount not sought.  The application also revealed that CIRM had persuaded San Francisco to waive $100,000 that would have be charged for use of Moscone Center.  

I’d like to say my logical arguments that the grant was wrong in light of the state’s financial crisis carried they day and the directors turned down the request at the Dec. 23 meeting. Actually, truth be told, it was that the board failed to muster a quorum and couldn’t act on the grant.

Based on what was said in December I reckoned the request would be rushed back to  the board as soon as possible.  I was more than a little surprised when it was not on the agenda for this week’s two-day ICOC meeting in Burlingame.  I asked Don Gibbons, CIRM Communications officer, how come.

"We are examining other possible alternatives for the ISSCR meeting," he said in an e-mail, "and will bring the issue back at a later date."

The good news is that the ICOC insisted upon a budget and justification for the grant.  But here’s two important questions for CIRM’s leadership: (1.) If the grant was so important, why couldn’t the request be submitted with appropriate justification the first time? (2.) If there was a genuine urgency in December, what’s changed now?

Could it be that Chairman Klein thought he had a compliant board that rubber stamps his every whim?  It’s beginning to be clear that’s not always the case.

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