Fool’s errand.

I just did something really foolish. Since it has become clear that one potential explanation for the dues hike is to restore cut services, I decided to look through the council minutes and see if I could find the discussion where they decide what to cut. In my mind, this doesn’t undermine the collective effort to petition the ASA to provide an explanation of the fee increase. I’m just being a little entrepreneurial and satisfying my curiosity.

I found the council minutes on the ASA website rather quickly, but faced with a page of dates, I had no idea which PDF to open first. (Note to relevant party/parties: provide a TOC or summary of the document contents, so we know what we will find, where.)

I accidentally hit paydirt by starting with the 2007 February meeting minutes, which appear to be the big annual executive meeting. Skimming through the financial section and it all looks good–we’ll end with a profit and no mention of cuts in programming. Heading on to 2008 February: There’s a lot of discussion here about the now-infamous “D.C. Condo” which not only cost a bundle, but which caused us to become embroiled in a lawsuit over taxes and rent in our previous location. And the bundles of money spent on this place! My goodness–I think I should stay out of commercial real estate because the costs are staggering. Anyway…here’s the long and short of it:

At the close of the 2006 fiscal year (December 31, 2006), ASA had long term
investments of $8,299,546. At the end of March 2007, ASA had experienced a 2.6%
cumulative gain in investments. At this time, ASA withdrew $2,000,000 for the down
payment on purchase of the new office space. This withdrawal was the full amount
of the Building Fund plus $355,723 from the General Fund. This left long-term stock
and bond investments totaling $6,510,397. At the end 2007, the amount was
$6,532,600.

No mention of programming being cut. Not that I could find. Encouraging, though, was this:

By action of Council, the Committee on Executive Office and Budget (EOB) functions
as the Association’s Audit Committee. While in that role, EOB reviews internal
controls and processes that safeguard the Association’s assets. The most recent audit
was positive and included no suggestions for changes or new procedures, noting that
the existing internal controls are functioning properly.

I just made a little mental note to find out who constitutes the Committee on Executive Office and Budget.

{As a side note, I thought you’d find this amusing:}

Deputy Executive Officer Janet Astner reported to Council that it was once again time
to think about future meeting sites. […] The timing of the meeting in August
rules out a number of sites due to climate and the size and complexity of the meeting
eliminate others. Council discussed possibilities including Denver, Portland, Salt Lake
City, San Diego, Vancouver.

Anyhoo: On the “benchmarking” issue, ASA has already instituted this practice. In a discussion of counting meeting attendance you’ll find this passage:

In follow-up to an item from the last Council meeting, Executive Office staff explored
the practice of the American Political Science Association (APSA) to count attendance
at all its annual meeting panel sessions, plenary sessions, and lectures.

It goes on to relate their methodology and why ASA has ceased to follow the same procedures.

So, that’s how far I’ve gotten. I’m all the way in February of 2008 and no sign of financial distress (at least not other than the kind produced by our decision to buy in D.C. rather than rent on New York). And along the way, we find there’s a financial oversight committee, a list of as-yet unchosen but totally awesome options for August (and a total lack of understanding that Atlanta should be ruled out “due to climate”), and evidence of benchmarking practices. NO CUT SERVICES.

(I’m sure they’re there, but where?)

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Fool’s errand.

  1. Noah

    I’m looking at the 2008 and 2009 auditing reports. According to the audit reports, 2/3 of the ASA’s cutbacks in 2009 were in the areas of printing and consultants. Printing costs were cut from $542,636 to $384,316. Consultants were cut from $363,917 to $255,080. Combined, that is a $267,157 cut in the ASA’s expenses from 2008 to 2009. The total budget cut was $402,226.

    The ASA audit forms also distinguish “Program Services” (Program, Meeting, Publications, Editorial Offices, Membership and Sections) from “Management and Governance.” Cuts were split $274,203 for management & governance, $128,023 for program services. There is a $143,097 cut in program services: printing and a $41,297 cut in program: consultants. Other expenses for program services went up slightly.

    I understand that auditing reports may not tell the complete story. I’d really like to know what that story is, particularly with regards to program cuts.

  2. Jenn Lena

    Noah: Thanks, but I’m not sure I follow. In the first paragraph the value of the cut in printing costs is $153,320. In the second paragraph you say “there is a $143,097 cut in program services: printing.” Can you square these for me?

    And if I follow you correctly, you’re saying that the value of the “services cut” (assuming we are not referring to printing nor to consultants) is $135069? This is the potential shortfall that a dues increase would be designed to replace?

    If true, I’m even more curious about why the council would recommend changes that would yield (it looks like, from Jeremy’s calculations) more than twice that much revenue.

  3. Noah

    OK, let’s see if this works a little better. I looked at 2008 expenses minus 2009 expenses. The audits separate “management and governance” expenses from other services, which are labeled “program” broadly defined. First, let’s look just at this broad heading of programming. The total cuts to program service expenses were $128,023. Looking at more specific line items, there was a $143,097 cut in printing and a $41,297 cut in consultants. However, there was a $87,443 increase in employee payroll.

    The biggest cuts in the ASA budget in 2009, $274,203, come from the “management and governance” section. These cuts are manly centered in the areas of printing and consulting, just like the programming cuts.

    The total ASA budget cut was $402,226. About 66 percent of the total cuts came from the management and governance side, not the program side. The ASA leadership could be making decisions based on the $402,226 figure for total cuts, instead of the much lower $128,023 cut in program expenses.

    I hope this is clearer. Please let me know if it isn’t.

  4. Jenn Lena

    Yeah, that helps. Thank you for writing to clarify.

  5. It is not clear that these changes should be considered “cuts” as opposed to year-to-year fluctuations. (Put differently, perhaps 2008 was the anomalous year.)

    More to the point, when did the journals start moving on-line in a serious way? When did Footnotes go online? Etc. Surely those would lead to reductions in printing costs, but should not be considered “cuts in services” that need to be restored.

    Thanks Jenn for the heroic patience it must have required to read those minutes.

  6. ezrazuckerman

    Tremendous work, Jenn. Thanks. And you too, Noah. So what indeed were those cuts? And perhaps more importantly, where are the debates on what services might be worth cutting despite the fact that there is a constituency for them but are not valuable enough to enough members to warrant a dues increase? And if the journals make a profit (and the world is online), what are we printing that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars?

  7. Jenn Lena

    Now that Noah has tipped me off that the cuts were two years after I started my search (and quite late in the financial downturn), I’ll have to look at the 2009 minutes. Maybe that’s where we’ll find said discussion.

    On printing: I happen to know (as COO of the Culture section) that the ASA cut printing costs (in part, at least) by no longer paying for the reproduction of section letters. If memory serves, this went into effect during 2009, so squares with what Noah found in the audit. And it would be thousands of dollars. Andy did a little poking around for us, and found a quarterly newsletter would be upward of 3K to print and distribute on paper (which is why we’re all digital now). ASA was doing this in bulk, and presumably at a lower cost, but I’m still sure that accounts for a great deal of the cut costs in printing.

  8. Noah

    Total expenses in the last 6 years of ASA budgets, per auditing statements
    2004: $6,020,800
    2005: $6,091,358
    2006: $6,126,111
    2007: $6,584,531
    2008: $7,674,357*
    2009: $7,272,131*

    2008 also shows a $1.89 million loss in “change in fair value of interest rate swap obligation.” 2009 shows a $1.19 million gain.

    Obviously, a 1 year decrease could mean a lot of different things. Thanks for reminding us TDS. I’m just trying to get the ball rolling so better connected and better informed people like you and Jenn can take the next step.

    Almost every area of ASA had lower printing costs in 2009. Publications, meeting services, management and governance, “program” went down significantly. Membership and sections printing only went down $480. Maybe the culture section was ahead of the curve?

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