come back unhappily on CIRM. Nonetheless, the measure is not likely to be changed significantly inthe near future given current political realities. Nonetheless, I would like to address the nature of its 29-member board of directors. Proposition 71 created a board with a sweeping array of conflicts of increase. Represented among its 29 members are institutions that are the chief beneficiaries of CIRM'slargess. CIRM has worked diligently to assure that no director is found in violation of the state'sconflict laws. But while directors cannot vote on grants to their specific institutions, they approve grantinitiatives and set the rules for grants, applications and administration of the funds. And as of this week,90 percent of the money awarded by CIRM has gone to institutions linked to persons who are directorsor who have served as directors. That translates to $972 million.All of which tends to foster dark suspicions about the conduct of the agency. Are the grants beingawarded fairly? That's one question that the biotech industry is raising, mostly behind closed doors. Arethe proposals from less well-known scientists being squeezed out by pressure to fund the big names of academia? Again, a suspicion that is really raised only in private. From time to time, some of thissurfaces in public in one form or another. A Los Angeles Times business columnist wrote last Januarythat the agency has “
self-righteously fought every attempt to improve public oversight over itsdisbursement of what is, after all, the people's money.”
In 2008, Nature magazine warned of cronyism atthe agency. And last winter a key state lawmaker – a Democrat – issued a press release saying thatCIRM was basically accountable to no one.How can the agency deal with these sorts of issues? The answer is basically one word – sunshine – improved openness.The reality is that the composition of the board is not going to change. What can improve is opennessand transparency on the part of the board and the agency. CIRM should put its cards on the table for allto see.It can post the statements of economic interests of its directors and executive staff on the Internet as isdone by Gov. Schwarzenneger and state Controller John Chiang, the state's top fiscal officer, for their key appointees. Chiang, by the way, is also chairman of a panel created by Prop. 71 to overseee CIRM'sfinancial accountability. That panel last January unanimously called for more openness at the agency.CIRM can also post online the statements of economic interest of its reviewers. The grant reviewersmake the de facto decisions on all grant applications. CIRM directors rarely change their recommendations.The agency can be more transparent by allowing the public and interested parties to read in advanceimportant proposals that will be considered by directors at their public meetings. Currently, the de facto policy of the agency is to wait until just before meetings to post most important backgroundinformation on decisions to be made in public by the board. All that citizens see are a few cryptic wordson an agenda, such as consideration of a clinical trial round or amendments to loan policy. Thiseffectively prevents the public and affected parties from making an intelligent comment either beforethe meeting or on the day of the actual session. Even board members have complained at times thatthey have not gotten the material sufficiently in advance. CIRM should set a new standard for postingsuch material. It should come no later than five business days before a meeting. None of these changes is costly. They are simply good management and reflect the responsibilities of a public agency that will apparently soon be seeking another $5 billion or so from the people of California.