In 2020, there were six vacancies on the Delta Independent Science Board, created by term limits for five members, and one member stepping down. The Delta Stewardship Council ran a nationwide search in 2019 to recruit new members. Candidates were required to be “internationally prominent scientists with appropriate expertise” and were promised to be “paid part-time” for their work.
Then the COVID crisis hit the state budget. On March 24, 2020, Department of Finance Director Keely Bosler sent a letter to all Department Directors, citing a “severe drop in economic activity, with corresponding negative effects on anticipated revenues.” Bosler’s letter stated that “agencies and departments should have no expectation of full funding for either new or existing proposals and adjustments.”
On April 17, 2020, the Delta Stewardship Council staff sent a request to the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) to create exempt employee positions for the Delta Independent Science Board. The request was for positions that paid for up to 20 hours of work a month for each member, or up to 2,400 hours a year for all 10 board members. The existing contracts with ISB members paid for up to 3,400 hours of work a year, so the request was a reduction of about 30% in the authorized hours.
CalHR then informed the Delta Stewardship Council that the new positions could only pay $100 per day. The Delta Stewardship Council’s Executive Director explained the legal basis in response to our inquiries:
Government Code section 11564.5 states that the rate for board members “shall be established at one hundred dollars ($100) per day unless a higher rate is provided by statute….” Because the Delta Reform Act does not provide a specific compensation amount for the Delta ISB, the Delta ISB is compensated at $100 per diem.
The change in compensation was not reported at a meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council. Six scientists were selected for the Delta Independent Science Board and nominated for appointment in June 2020. The Lead Scientist’s nominating memo only stated,
Funding for the Delta ISB is part of the current Delta Science Program budget. Delta ISB members are compensated for their time and travel. No additional funding is required for this recruitment.
Meeting notices show that all Delta ISB members began serving as unpaid volunteers, starting July 1, 2020. The six new members took their seats in September 2020 and were informed that there were problems with their promised compensation. They only began to get the $100 per diem compensation around December 2020.
The Delta Stewardship Council’s meeting agendas for FY 2019-20 included quarterly budget reports. We could find no budget reports provided with the meeting agendas in Fiscal Year 2020-21.
Although the Delta Stewardship Council staff could request that the legislature amend the Delta Reform Act to provide appropriate compensation for the Delta Independent Science Board members for FY 2021-22, no such request has been made.
It is currently unclear if the change in compensation status in FY 2020-21 has resulted in a continuing loss of funding for the Delta Independent Science Board.