June 2019

Charles Rotimi

Charles Rotimi, PhD, ASHG Board of Directors

The Spring 2019 Board meeting was held in Rockville, MD on May 6-7 in the new ASHG headquarters building.  It was a full, productive meeting with many discussions that will help set a course for the Society’s next phase of achievement. The Board also moved briefly into formal session in February during its strategic planning retreat to discuss and approve two timely items. During both sessions, the Board discussed and approved the following major activities.

New Strategic Plan: Discussion, Calibration, and Approval

As the Board has shared with the membership, ASHG has been undertaking a significant strategic planning effort to guide its continued growth and achievement. It involved a year of input from and engagement with a wide range of valued stakeholders, including a major member survey, intensive interviews with diverse field leaders, and a two day-strategic planning retreat in February. In May, the Board reviewed a final draft, discussed and refined several elements, and unanimously voted to approve the new final ASHG Strategic Plan for the next three to five years. 

The ASHG Board set out a compelling and ambitious long-term vision—People everywhere realize the benefits of genetics and genomics research­—with an additional emphasis on building strong value for members in the Society. The Board also reviewed and approved the recommendations from a year-long working group assessing the Society’s committee structure and goals. More information on both these important steps can be found in this edition of The Messenger. The Society is extremely enthusiastic about the opportunity to more actively engage our members in achieving this ambitious and positive vision.

Programmatic Areas Come into Focus

Throughout the two days, the Board spent time on several key topics in ASHG’s strategic plan.  First, it reviewed, discussed and approved a major multi-year effort to expand the Society’s year-round programming focused on scientific, career development, advocacy and educational content. This program will get off the ground with help from a new working group of members in the year ahead.

Additionally, the Board reviewed substantial efforts already underway on diversity and inclusion. This includes the spring launch of the new Human Genetics Scholars Initiative, which will enhance the community of diverse genetics and genomics researchers, focused especially on early-career scientists while also engaging the much broader community. To expand this work, the Board will be creating a two-year Diversity and Inclusion Task Force that will work with and through committees to determine strategies and activities the organization will pursue to advance strategic goals, with a task to create an organization-wide diversity action plan.

Finally, the Board had a very engaged discussion on membership strategies, which will be the focus of a new permanent committee.  Primary strategies will include better outreach and engagement with our core membership; enhancing the range of resources for members and opportunities to get involved; and increasing personalization or tailoring of content to serve the unique needs of ASHG’s many constituencies. 

Committees & Editorial Leadership Report on Programs

The Board heard extremely positive reports from Program Committee Chair Kiran Musunuru about the exciting upcoming Annual Meeting in Houston, and the Board was very enthusiastic about innovations and hard work underway. The Board also heard from Policy and Advocacy Advisory Group Chair Lynn Jorde on emerging policy and advocacy issues, including federal funding for genetics and genomics research, early data privacy discussions, and a special event that will be held at the fall Annual Meeting about germline genome editing regulation. Social Issues Committee Chair Jennifer Wagner called in to discuss ongoing work on a guidance for members interested in working with ancient DNA samples, and important ethical and social considerations of doing so.

The American Journal of Human Genetics Editor Bruce Korf reported on several lines of activity that are underway as part of ASHG’s growing focus on scientific publishing. AJHG remains strong—submissions are up nearly 9 percent, article downloads are also up, and a recent paper on newborn screening generated several significant media stories. The Journal has also played a significant role in ASHG’s growing scientific professional education programming, including several webinars on emerging research. These have been very well-received by the field and will continue into the new fiscal year. The Board also discussed outcomes of the Scientific Publishing Planning Group, which has been advising Bruce and the Society about some potential innovations in the Society’s publishing portfolio. The Board approved several actions, which will be discussed and shared with the membership in coming weeks.

Working to Ensure Professional Conduct in ASHG Events and our Community

ASHG is committed to fostering a welcoming and safe environment at its events and in its community. The Board reviewed the outcomes of the introduction of a Code of Conduct at last fall’s Annual Meeting and two cases of offensive comments that were reported to the Society. Both cases were resolved to the complainants’ satisfaction. Overall, attendees communicated strong appreciation for the policy’s introduction. The Board discussed additional opportunities to set clearer and stronger expectations for professional conduct and will be communicating these to the membership in coming months.

Annual and Long-Term Budgets Form Strong Society Foundation

As reported to the membership, the Society is financially sound and has been strengthening and adapting its financial oversight, systems, and strategies to help ASHG build and grow in a predictable, sustainable way. Following last year’s fiscal year change, the spring Board meeting will now be a time to review and approve budgets of several kinds, including the Society’s annual operating budget and a multi-year budget that anticipates and plans for potential financial performance over a subsequent two years. It also has created and will approve an annual allocation for the multi-year Strategic Investment Fund approved by the Board last year; that fund authorizes a draw of up to 2.5% of the value of the reserve fund annually to support new Society activities. These financial efforts are now actively overseen by an expanded Finance and Audit Committee composed of both society officers and regular members. 

The Board approved the FY19-20 budget, which anticipates $6.8 million in revenue and $6.7 million in expenses, creating a prudent 1.5% net surplus target to address any unexpected expenses. The Society also approved allocations of up to $460,000 for the FY19-20 Strategic Investment Fund focused on year-round programming, diversity initiatives, and continuing operational upgrades. Staff reported the FY18-19 financial performance to date, which is strong due to record 2018 Annual Meeting attendance of more than 9,000. Thus, the Society is forecasting a year-end operating surplus of about $450,000. Given this surplus, the Board voted to earmark about half those funds for potential scientific publishing innovation in future years. 

Updates to ASHG Reserve Governance and Advisor

At a brief formal Board Meeting held during the February strategic planning retreat, the Board reviewed and approved a recommendation from the Finance and Audit Committee to create a new sister Investment Committee to generate investment policy recommendations to the Board, as well as manage and monitor investment activity under guidelines set by the Board. It will include a chair, the treasurer, the incoming treasurer (when applicable), three regular members and up to two pro-bono advisers.

Additionally, after a thorough seven-month RFP process involving six firms and assessment of three finalists, the Board voted to change the Society’s investment advisory firm.  Beginning in summer 2019, the Glenmede Trust Company will provide guidance to the Investment Committee and Board on the Society’s responsibilities to manage ASHG’s reserve fund responsibly and consistent with its mission and long-term horizon. The Board will review and discuss whether to make any updates to the Investment Policy Statement.

Committee Volunteer Service Process Enhanced

Over the last several years, the Board has been eager to ensure committee service is open to more members as fresh perspectives and diversity of all kinds inform our work and the Society seeks to provide ever more opportunities for members to serve their society. The Board has been very pleased about the strong response to the call for service over the last few years, with more than 100 volunteering each year.

As a next step, recent past presidents had been considering their obligation under the bylaws to select all committee members and chairs; they suggested, and the Board agreed, that it would be helpful for a governance body to be responsible for developing a slate of committee candidates for Board review and approval. For this reason, the Board voted to authorize the president to implement such an approach and the Nominations Committee will take on this function beginning with the 2020 cycle.

Next Meeting Scheduled

The Board’s next meeting will be held in conjunction with the ASHG Annual Meeting in Houston, and the Members Forum and Business Meeting will be held Friday, October 18, 2019 from 12:30-1:30 at the Houston Convention Center.