Fall 2019 Board Meeting Roundup

December 2019

The Fall 2019 ASHG Board meeting was held in Houston, Texas on October 14-15. The Board focused on work to be done for the Strategic Plan, important steps to maintain strong financial management, and strategic consideration of partnerships. It recognized hard work by committees, working groups, and Society staff in a productive and fruitful 2019.

Strategic Plan Implementation

Following the development and release of ASHG’s new Strategic Plan, much work is already underway at the Board, staff, and committee levels to help pursue ASHG’s vision that people everywhere realize the benefits of human genetics and genomics. In coming months, committees will work on proposed Action Plans to achieve strategic goals within their areas of responsibility. The Board will consider those plans in the spring, prioritizing projects to ensure they are aligned with the highest Strategic Plan goals/objectives and available resources.

While planning continues, several foundational activities were discussed or approved.

  • The Board discussed a public opinion poll ASHG will undertake in partnership with Research!America.
  • It approved a request from the Government & Public Advocacy Committee to assess the feasibility of an ASHG report on the economic impact of genetics and genomics research; staff will investigate the potential scale and cost, with options brought to the spring Board meeting.
  • The Board received an update on year-round professional education programs now in development to help members learn about and engage on emerging scientific findings. A working group will identify a set of initial activities and topics and will also work across committees to identify helpful content on career development, advocacy, and education; create content with The American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG); and invest in digital learning platforms.
  • The Diversity & Inclusion Task Force (DITF) reported on early conversations and first steps, including a review of current programming and recommendations for a first ASHG Diversity and Inclusion Statement. A DITF member will also participate in each committee planning session in 2020.

Collaboration: An ASHG Strategic Plan Value

As “collaboration” is a core value of the new Strategic Plan, the Board discussed organizational relations, the array of organizations now working in genetics and genomics research, and a framework for equitable and sustainable engagement with so many groups. The Board discussed the progress of several ASHG partnerships with core, broad-based genetics and genomics organizations such as the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, the National Society of Genetic Counselors, the International Federation of Human Genetics Societies, and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

It also received an update directly from NHGRI Director Eric Green about NHGRI’s strategic directions and the potential to partner more effectively, as well as how ASHG might forge strong alliances with additional NIH institutes and centers. The Board also discussed the role of industry in the genetics research agenda, and possible opportunities for the Society to engage on areas of shared interest; a working group will explore this topic further in coming months.

Applying Professional Conduct Standards to ASHG Awards

In its continued work to foster a safe and welcoming environment in which research can thrive, the Board approved the application of the Society’s professional conduct standards to its awards considerations and procedures. In the wake of the 2018 National Academies Report documenting the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment in science, the Board affirmed that ASHG plays an important role, consistent with our mission to serve science and our members, to help address climates that perpetuate unprofessional conduct or harassment. The Awards Committee will develop application procedures based on the parameters outlined in the policy to apply to the 2020 nominations cycle, and the policy will be posted on ASHG’s website.

Scientific Publications Updates and Direction-Setting

AJHG Editor-in-Chief Bruce Korf reported on AJHG’s strong performance—submissions in 2019 are on par with 2018, article downloads are up, and the Journal’s impact factor has increased from 8.86 to 9.92. The Journal has also played a significant role in ASHG’s growing scientific professional education programming, including several webinars on emerging research.

The Board also discussed the nearing launch of Human Genetics & Genomics Advances, ASHG’s new, fully online, open access journal. The Board authorized the Executive Committee of the Board to move forward with discussions about an inaugural HGG Advances Editor-in-Chief.

Budgets Reinforce Strong Foundation and Stability

The Board reviewed the favorable financial report from FY18-19, as well as an unqualified opinion and clean audit from independent auditors. The Society reported a net surplus of just over $600,000, including about $300,000 of net operating surplus and $300,000 from short-term investment returns.

As the meeting generates about 60% of the organization’s revenue, most of the net surplus was due to a record-setting 2018 meeting and continued strategic expense management. Member dues and AJHG also contribute substantially to the organization’s resources, and both performed well last year. The early FY19-20 outlook is solid based on strong expected Houston meeting performance, continued excellence at the Journal, and consistent membership.

To support growing programs, the Board approved modest Annual Meeting registration fee increases in 2020 and 2021. It also approved new, lower registration rates for attendees from developing countries, creating tiered registration rates based on World Bank categories, to support diverse, global scientific representation at the meeting. The Board discussed and approved continued modest dues increases for 2021 regular members, largely to reflect inflation, and held trainee rates constant.

Updated Investment Policy and Reserve Allocations

As reported last spring, the Board selected a new investment advisory firm, Glenmede Trust Company, to manage ASHG’s reserve fund responsibly and consistently with the Society’s mission and long-term planning, and it created a new Investment Committee. Based on input from Glenmede and recommendations from the Investment Committee, the Board approved in October an updated Investment Policy Statement. The policy will ensure Society reserves protect the organization from unexpected economic downturns or other financial impacts, while enabling it to reinvest in member programs and value. Changes include:

  • The new policy shifts the weighting of investments to a 75% long-term fund/25% short-term fund balance, from the current 50%/50% balance. The short-term fund invests exclusively in bonds and other highly-liquid, lower-yield fixed income, while the long-term fund has more exposure to high-quality equity investments that will benefit from long-term market growth over time. Glenmede advisors will work with the Investment Committee to execute a staged transition, moving $1,000,000 per quarter until the new allocation goal is reached.
  • The new policy authorizes an investment strategy designed to allow a sustainable draw of up to 3 percent of the reserves annually for program use. It revises asset allocation targets, minimums, and maximums; permissible investments (including limited use of alternative investments); and performance evaluation expectations. The changes ensure the Society continues to act responsibly and conservatively with the funds, while generating potentially higher returns with very little increased risk.

Secretary Election & Next Board Meeting

The Board elected Donna Martin, MD, PhD, as Board Secretary with a three-year term beginning January 1, 2020. Donna will succeed current secretary Gail Jarvik, MD, PhD, who will become President-elect. The Board’s next meeting will be held at the ASHG offices in Rockville, Maryland, April 27-28, 2020.

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