Texas Lawmakers Set Sights on CPRIT Overhaul


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The CPRIT scandal continues to impact the state of Texas, as Governor Perry - who initially called those who challenged the integrity of the agency as "conspiracy theorists" - has now halted all grants issued by the organization. On December 20, it was the House Appropriations Committee's turn to look into what CPRIT has done. From the Houston Chronicle:

"It's a disappointment that we're even having this meeting, that we have to bring this matter before the (House appropriations) committee," said Rep. James Keffer, R-Eastland, a co-author of the legislation that created the $3 billion Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas,

"We have to because (our) integrity has been challenged, our integrity is in question," said Keffer. "I don't feel there's been anything criminal, I don't feel there's been anything underhanded. But what we've seen is unacceptable."

The meeting of the committee that will ultimately decide whether to fund the agency for the coming biennium came one day after CPRIT said it would stop awarding grants until it can assure the public it is conducting its business properly.

Back in October, State Representative Garnet Coleman told the Dallas Morning News he'd be filing legislation to address needed changes to CPRIT:

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he will introduce legislation to overhaul CPRIT, and will work with Republican legislators to get it approved. He said he had “serious concerns,” when the Legislature debated the creation of CPRIT in 2007, about politics potentially infecting the award-making process.

Gilman’s resignation — combined with controversy over the agency recommending a $20 million grant for a Houston incubator without a scientific review, and the recent resignations of out-of-state science reviewers — shows that “my initial unease with the agency was justified,” he said.

Saying the rules governing CPRIT are “loosey-goosey,” Coleman said the public should know all the details of how the agency decides who gets money. To accomplish that, the process should be put into state law, he said. Coleman said the problems that have plagued the tech fund and enterprise fund now have spread to CPRIT. “It’s not new,” he said. “The difference is this is a boatload of money.”

State Senator Wendy Davis has followed Rep. Coleman's lead, saying she, too, will be pursuing legislation to address the problem. From the Austin American-Statesman article on December 19:

“The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is currently plagued by accusations of cronyism, conflicts of interest, insider deals and a lack of transparency and accountability to the public,” Davis said in a news release. “These issues are understandably tarnishing the public’s trust in how hundreds of millions in voter-approved funds are being managed through CPRIT.”

Davis promised to raise questions on the future direction of the agency, particularly whether it should continue giving money to companies to commercialize cancer research into products and treatments. Some advocates say the agency’s primary mission should be funding research and prevention.