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Senate passes bill to reform USTAR with more oversight

Published March 4, 2014 2:00 pm

Accountability • After blistering audit, agency faces changes to achieve goals.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Senate passed a bill Tuesday written to spank — and reform — the $34 million Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative, a state program designed to turn high-tech university research into new jobs and businesses.

SB62 passed 26-0 and was sent to the House.

The bill comes after a legislative audit slammed the program for exaggerating the number of jobs created and the money generated for Utah's economy.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, ordered that critical audit and drafted SB62 to fix many of the problems identified with lack of oversight, accountability and measurable goals.

The bill would require what Shiozawa called exhaustive annual reports looking at each USTAR research team and the overall operation. It would set clearer lines of responsibility and more oversight by its board along with better job-performance goals. It also would push the agency to become self-funding and eliminate state subsidies.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said he came close to pushing to abolish USTAR but supported the bill to try to create more accountability.

"When the audit was as tough on it as it was," Jenkins said, "and you found out some of the performance measures weren't being met … this was one of those occasions where it was really easy to say, 'I've had it with USTAR.' "

Shiozawa said the annual audits, coupled with a five-year sunset for the program, would help lawmakers determine if promises to create new high-tech jobs are being realized and whether the agency should continue long-term.

"We've taken our whooping," new USTAR chairman and former Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell told a committee earlier about the audit and proposed changes. He said while the bill "is difficult and hard to swallow … we've taken the bit in our mouth and are going to perform."

Bell added: "We're going to run this program under complete due-diligence and complete audit" to ensure it is living up to its original goals. He said newly formed research teams will be told they will be expected to be self-funding within five years, and should be creating jobs from their research by that time.