Texas cancer agency signals it'll stay with leader

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Associated Press

Posted on November 1, 2013 at 8:02 AM

Updated Saturday, Nov 2 at 10:02 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — New overseers of Texas' $3 billion fight against cancer signaled Friday they will stick with the interim executive who steered the revamped agency through turmoil, a criminal investigation and national embarrassment.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas formally rebooted with a public meeting at the Texas Capitol, the first since lawmakers this spring overhauled the once-celebrated agency that came unraveled by improperly awarded grants and questionable spending.

Wayne Roberts took over in December in a fireman's role after the agency, known as CPRIT, lost its entire executive team to sudden resignations and prosecutors began looking into $11 million in taxpayer funds awarded to a private startup without review. Roberts has served as interim executive director since.

On Friday, a new CPRIT governing board voted to solicit only internal applicants for the permanent job, signaling Roberts is their pick. Because the job must be posted for 10 days, neither Roberts nor the board would confirm the selection.

"So much of the discussion focused on the last 12, 14 months and how important continuity is under these circumstances," said Pete Geren, a former Democratic congressman who now sits on the new CPRIT board. "We don't have time to reach outside and get somebody else up to speed."

Roberts would say only that he would apply for the job provided he meets the qualifications. Roberts is a longtime fixture in state government but mostly behind the scenes, including a stint as Gov. Rick Perry's budget director.

Lawmakers mandated that CPRIT hire a new full-time chief executive by Dec. 1.

Perry and other state leaders this week lifted a nearly yearlong moratorium that had barred the agency from awarding grant money while under heavy scrutiny. The criminal investigation involving CPRIT is ongoing.

Kevin Gardner, a researcher at UT Southwestern Medical Center who has received CPRIT awards, testified that he was grateful for Roberts and lawmakers rebuilding the agency but lamented the freezing of funds during the moratorium.

"This is the single most frustrating aspect I've had professionally in my career," Gardner said. "It goes without saying that cancer doesn't take the last 10 months off, but many of us trying to find it had to."

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

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