Human Exceptionalism

And Yet Still More Bad Management at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

The CIRM, which doles out $300 million of borrowed money on Californians’ credit card each year, has been a disaster from the start. We have seen mismanagement, conflicts of interest, hundreds of millions paid to buy the most expensive buildings designed by the most costly architects, etc., and other follies. And it seems to have become a personal power center for Robert Klein, who authored and penned the deceptive Proposition 71 and has run it ever since as a personal fiefdom.

Among the biggest boosters of the CIRM has been the editorial page of the Sacramento Bee. Now even the Bee seems to have had it up to its figurative neck with Klein and the CIRM’s methods. From a Bee editorial:

A 29-member panel called the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee supervises California’s $3 billion stem cell research institute. The committee’s name was misleading from the start. It’s even more so now. Last week, this supposedly “independent” committee met to decide on a new vice chair. The contenders were Art Torres, a former state senator, and Duane Roth, a San Diego Republican with ties to the biotech industry…

So what did the institute’s overseers do? They split the difference. In an 11th-hour move on Thursday, the committee decided to create co-vice chairs and appoint Torres and Roth to the positions. They also voted to grant a $75,000 yearly salary to Torres, even though the previous vice chair, Ed Penhoet, had declined one.

Then the editorial gets around to Klein, whose leadership is so reminiscent of the entire financial mess at the federal level in a microcosm–remember Klein wanted $500,000 a year to run CIRM when the state was drowning in a $42 billion deficit–but selflessly settled for $150 K to work part time:

If the stem cell institute had a normal structure, with a strong president handling administrative duties, the selection of the institute vice chair would be less consequential. But because Chairman Robert Klein has such broad authority (Klein wrote the ballot initiative that created the stem cell institute), the vice chair can serve as an essential check on the chair’s power.

With its decision Thursday, the oversight board has effectively agreed to subdivide the vice chairs’ authority, giving Klein more power than ever. It’s a further demonstration that the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee is neither independent, nor a group of citizens, nor much of an overseer of $3 billion in public monies.

The CIRM soap opera reminds me so much of the AIG mess and the broader financial debacle through which we are struggling in a microcosm–pigs feeding at the public trough without a modicum of common sense or understanding of public responsibility.

Klein said during the campaign that he pushed Proposition 71 to find a cure for his son’s diabetes. But the way he has run the agency points toward egoism as having subsumed altruism. If Klein is really only about finding cures, he will resign and let a competent manager take the reins of the CIRM.

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