Gov. Jerry Brown, like his predecessors, ordered state agencies and departments this year to restrict employee travel, and after reviewing out-of-state travel requests, his office said most obeyed.
Except, in Brown's view, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which proposed as "mission critical" about two dozen international trips, including to Paris, Amsterdam, Australia and Japan.
To meet with foreign scientists and government officials, said Robert Klein, then chairman of the stem-cell research agency's independent oversight committee, is necessary to share research and pursue international funding agreements worth millions of dollars.
"More than 20 million Californians live in families where a family member suffers from a chronic disease or injury," Klein said in a June memorandum to Brown's office. "This mission-critical travel is vital to saving their lives and/or improving their quality of life."
"Now is not the time to be lollygagging in London on the taxpayer's dime," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said this week. "We have quite a bit to focus on here in California."
But the stem-cell research agency is governed by an independent committee and does not fall under Brown's direct authority, the administration told the agency. While Brown officials wouldn't sign the travel request, no signature was required.
Earlier this week, following an inquiry by The Bee, the agency's new chairman, Jonathan Thomas, wrote to members of his governing board that he plans to reduce his office's travel budget by more than 50 percent and has asked officials to consider similar reductions agency-wide.
Though Thomas, like Klein, considered the proposed travel "mission critical," he wrote, "I believe we can accomplish these goals while doing our part to reduce expenditures in these times of fiscal challenge."
In April, Brown banned employee travel that is not "mission critical," one of several heavily symbolic measures used by the Democratic governor to demonstrate his frugality in the budget crisis. The order required all out-of-state travel to be approved by Brown's office.
Of $11.6 million in out-of-state travel requests reviewed by Brown's office, $9.9 million was approved. The largest request, $4.4 million, was from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, mostly for extraditions. It was almost entirely approved. Statewide, the average agency or department request was reduced by 27 percent, Brown's office said.