Since the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, we have all seen and experienced what my US Army War College professors described as second and third order effects. The COVID-19 virus was the first order cause that created the pandemic or first order effect.   The second order effects are “downstream” of the first order effect and includes critical supply shortages and vacancies across all service and public service industries.  The third order of effects are the increase in the cost of living and delay of deliveries, for all of us. Everything from gas, food, electricity, (closer to our bailiwick-- all forensic lab related consumables) —you name it, the price has gone up and delivery times are longer. 

ASCLD has also struggled with second and third order effects. We depend on profit generated from our annual symposiums to fund our operational budget for the following year. Due to the cancellation of the 2020 Symposium in Denver, ASCLD took a financial loss of over $110,000 for the year 2020.  The Board of Directors wisely directed me to apply for a US Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan and that loan has been forgiven. As the pandemic extended, the Board of Directors directed me to apply for a second PPP loan. As of this writing, I’m waiting on the loan forgiveness application to post on our bank’s website and expect it to be forgiven, too. In total, ASCLD will benefit from $32,802 in funding from the federal government. These measures have helped ensure ASCLD was able to move forward, even with the financial loss from our 2020 symposium.

Unfortunately, the resurgence of the pandemic affected our 2021 Symposium in Boston. We experienced lower attendance numbers, fewer sponsorships, and higher than average venue cost in Boston – all resulting in a second year financial loss in excess of $80,000. Your leadership has struggled to balance the cost of putting on a quality symposium without pricing our membership outside of a reasonable range. They have also contemplated how to maintain an operational budget that allows ASCLD to provide you with the quality programs you have come to expect.  As a result, the Board approved an increase in membership dues during their meeting in Boston, the first in nearly ten years. The symposium planning group also recommended a modest increase in symposium registration, again, the first increase in several years. This was done primarily to help offset the increase in credit card fees, which too have grown.   

It is important to note here why the Board did not approve a virtual option for our Boston symposium.  In short, it was a financial decision. ASCLD contracts with our hotel venues four to five years in advance. These contracts require minimum financial thresholds for attendance, space, food, and beverage or we receive substantial financial penalties. For many of our member’s agencies, given the option to attend live or virtual, members would have been required to attend virtual. So, the tough decision was made to press forward with live attendance, accept risk of lower attendance and therefore lower income, to ensure the overall financial solvency of ASCLD. 

Not to be all “sour grapes”, even with two years of loss, ASCLD has been able to keep the organization going forward. Previous Boards and Presidents exhibited exceptional wisdom by setting aside funds for exigent circumstances just like what we have experienced over the last two years.   The two PPP loans were especially timely in helping us bridge the gap. The Westin Copley Place, Boston was very happy to have our business and gave us additional discounts when the final bill was tallied. Our treasurer, meeting planner, and I anticipate that the 2022 Symposium in Reno will be better financially due to lower cost and increased attendance coming out of the post-pandemic. We already have multiple sponsors signed up along with keynote and plenary speakers.   I’m working alongside President Sudkamp, the other officers and Directors to keep options on the table and help our great organization keep moving forward.  I would be remiss if I didn’t say a word about the dynamic leadership of Presidents Brooke Arnone, Erin Forry and now Laura Sudkamp. They have done an outstanding job of keeping us focused while navigating the obstacles and challenges brought on by the pandemic! Though ASCLD has experienced COVID-19 pandemic second and third order effects alongside every other nonprofit organization, we will keep moving forward with exceptional leadership and innovation to ensure excellence in forensic science! 

John

John Byrd
ASCLD Executive Director