Jeffrey H. Altschul
Why is SAA's headquarters located in Washington, D.C.? Wouldn't it be cheaper to be headquartered in a more remote or less expensive city? As treasurer, I have been asked these questions numerous times in the past two years. The answers are a bit complex, but the bottom line is that our D.C. office has been, and continues to be, one of the best investments the Society has ever made.
The choice of Washington, D.C. area for our main office was calculated to advance the mission of the Society for American Archaeology. SAA has three main pillarsgovernment affairs, public education, and publications. Let's examine each in relation to the functions of the Washington office.
Government Affairs -- Located two blocks from Capitol Hill, SAA has a unique opportunity to influence public policymakers and make the voice of archaeology heard among legislators. Networking with historic preservation organizations, lobbying groups, and coalitions is a natural in D.C. With most federal agencies headquartered there, SAA has access to government decisionmakers and can play a role as a key resource to those decisionmakers. Additionally, many organizations whose interests overlap with oursthe American Anthropological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Trust for Historic Preservationand with whom we routinely partner with on legislation and public initiatives, are headquartered in D.C. Regardless of where SAA's headquarters was located, we would have to maintain an office in D.C. for no other reason than to effectively fulfill our mandate in government affairs.
Public Education -- The proximity of SAA to the central offices of federal agencies has a beneficial effect of fostering cooperative agreements and partnership arrangements in which SAA can realize some of its goals in concert with those of the agencies. This has particularly been the case in the area of public education. The joint projects developed over the past four years have been critical to our maintaining a soft-money position in public education at a time when SAA's finances could not afford to fund a staff line. As we move toward a permanent, hard-money position in public education, we want to maintain our ties to federal agencies and other public policy institutions to ensure our central role in forwarding public understanding of archaeology throughout the Americas.
Publications -- The category of publications is the exception that proves the rule. In truth, there is no reason to centralize our publications in the D.C. office, and indeed, we do not. The editors of our journals and newsletters are selected from the exceptional talent in our membership ranks. They can, and do, function quite well in the digital age from their home institutions, both in the United States and abroad. The D.C. office provides managing editor support for these positions, but we do not foresee the need to bring these positions into the more expensive Washington market.
The staff at the SAA office work hard to implement the policies and direction set by SAA's Board of Directors. The office serves as the nerve center for our administrative functionsmaintaining a database of more than 10,000 records, accounting for not only the membership and subscribership, but meetings, advertising, mailing list rentals, and the long list of revenue-generating activities. Our staff work to provide the services that the membership needs and wants. They are association professionals with expertise in a host of areas including publishing, information services, government affairs, membership, accounting, marketing, and association management.
Intentionally, I didn't respond to the question on the table, "why D.C.?," with a host of numbers and financial data. The answer supercedes a simple budget analysis. Proportionately, our office and staff is quite small for the size of our organization. We have a staff of eight to serve a membership of more than 6,500. It is a very lean staffing approach to the scope of work we accomplish as a society. It works because we have trained association professionals. The fact that D.C. is an association townprofessional associations are the third largest industry in Washingtonmeans that the available association professional talent pool is large and competition keen. Trying to attract and keep a trained staff, even one as small as the SAA's, would be extremely difficult and possibly more expensive to maintain someplace other than in D.C. A small professional staff also succeeds at SAA because of the incredible number of volunteers recruited from our membership. Those that work on various SAA committees, publications, meetings, and other functions complement the staff and help keep the expenses of the Society at a minimum.
In short, the Washington office is a good bargain, stretching itself to the maximum to provide what we, as a Society, ask of it. If transplanted elsewhere, there is no question that we would not have the impact on public policy that we have worked so hard to achieve. Public education initiatives and partnerships would likely suffer, and our ability to find professionals to provide membership services would decline. As treasurer, I am skeptical of anything that costs money. Yet, even I must admit that the services provided by the Washington office are critical to our goals, and that D.C. is the place to be.
Jeffrey Altschul, treasurer of SAA, is president of Statistical Research, Inc. in Tucson, Arizona.
back to top of page