CPRIT chief: No moratorium end targeted yet

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Associated Press

Posted on February 14, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 14 at 4:05 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A moratorium that has prohibited Texas' troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting agency from handing out more money since December will continue for now as hundreds of funded projects continue being reviewed, the state official in charge of the decision said Wednesday.

Wayne Roberts, interim executive director of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, declined to offer a timetable on when the agency that remains mired in a criminal investigation and widespread rebuke might begin operating as normal again.

"I'm weighing whether or not we ought to unfreeze anything," Roberts said.

He spoke after the embattled agency, known as CPRIT, ended two weeks of testimony in front of angry state lawmakers who questioned what led to the approval of more than $56 million in taxpayer dollars for grants that weren't endorsed by peer-review councils — if the projects were reviewed at all.

As the agency kept plunging into deeper turmoil by December, Gov. Rick Perry and other top lawmakers called for a moratorium on new grants until confidence in the beleaguered efforts was restored. CPRIT immediately agreed to the request.

Roberts said the agency still needs to review more than 300 previously awarded grants to make sure none of those were handled improperly. He stopped short, however, of saying he would wait until review is complete to propose an end to the moratorium.

Among the troubled grants uncovered at CPRIT was an $11 million grant to a Dallas-based startup that completely bypassed the review process. Another was a $25 million for a cancer clinical network that spent more than $100,000 on office furniture, and never secured matching funds from outside investors as required under state law.

Roberts said he understood that lawmakers needed to vent their anger and disappointment since the Legislature convened last month, but he said he hopes the conversations will now shift toward repairing the agency and moving forward.

"I kind of view this as a breaking point here," Roberts said. "I'm really hoping that we reached a point to where we can largely stop talking about the past."

Lawmakers have filed several bills that would significantly reform CPRIT, which was only launched in 2009.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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