Governor Rick Perry asked a cancer research organization backed by $3 billion in state bonding authority to stop making grants until it deals with probes of conflicts in some awards and changes its governing structure.
Perry, joined by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus of the state House of Representatives, made the request in a Dec. 18 letter to the oversight committee of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The Austin-based agency controls more funds than any other cancer- fighting organization except the National Institutes of Health.
“The mission of defeating cancer is too important to be derailed by inadequate processes and a lack of oversight,” the three officials said in the letter. “It is important that we restore the confidence of the Texas taxpayers who approved this important initiative before new funds are dispersed.”
The agency, which has awarded $804.8 million in 502 grants since 2009, according to its website, also faces criticism from scientists and is dealing with the resignations of agency officials amid complaints of political influence over some grants. Perry, Dewhurst and Straus appoint most agency overseers, while state Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs are permanent board members.
Abbott, state Auditor John Keel and Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County district attorney, are investigating some awards. The group has been under fire since May, when Alfred Gilman, a Nobel Prize winner and the agency’s first chief scientific officer, resigned and criticized a grant-making process. Bill Gimson, the agency’s executive director, resigned on Dec. 17.
“These issues need to be resolved to restore public confidence” in the agency, Oversight Committee Chairman Jimmy Mansour and Vice Chairman Joseph Bailes said in a statement responding to the three officials, all Republicans. In 2007, voters authorized as much as $3 billion in bonds to be issued to support the agency and its grants, according to its website.
“When our group and others raised questions about this, Perry’s office called us conspiracy theorists,” said James Moore, a director of Progress Texas, a nonprofit in Austin that advocates for government accountability. “Now he wants the program to shut down.”
Moore is a business consultant and writer who co-authored a 2011 book that was critical of Perry.
The institute’s review guidelines weren’t followed before a $20 million grant was awarded in March for a joint project between Rice University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Gimson said in a June 26 meeting with the institute’s advisory committee.
“It’s been a point of pride that CPRIT has earned a reputation for a gold-standard review process, free from conflicts of interest and unfair influence,” Gimson said at the meeting, according to a transcript. “Some of our own steps for the review were not followed.”
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