A report by the American Medical Association endorses relocating the group's top executive to Washington from Chicago, a move that has been rumored for months as a way to enhance the AMA's presence as a lobbying force on Capitol Hill.
The report, which will be presented to the AMA's House of Delegates at a meeting this week in Atlanta, could help pave the way for the relocation of Michael Maves, a longtime Washington operative who is executive vice president of the 247,000-member doctors' group.
Though Maves has not announced plans to move and sources said relocation is not imminent, AMA officials have debated in recent years the potential benefits of transferring the entire operation to the nation's capital. Last year, as part of an overall review of the organization, the AMA commissioned a study on the potential benefits of moving some or all of its operations to Washington, including Maves' office.
"The report doesn't seem to prohibit him from moving, but he has not said anything to the staff about moving," said one AMA source who asked not to be named.
Maves, an otolaryngologist whose daughter lives in the Washington area, joined the AMA in January 2002 after a long career in Washington, where he most recently served as president of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. He said through a spokesman that he preferred to let delegates discuss the issue during the AMA's midyear meeting. Such a move by Maves would make sense, some Washington insiders say, because of the AMA's emphasis on policy issues and its close lobbying relationship with many associations headquartered in the nation's capital.
"You can't beat Washington in terms of policymaking; it's the place to be," said Chip Kahn, president of the Washington-based Federation of American Hospitals. "Mike (Maves) is back and forth here a lot. Obviously, I think it helps an organization when the principal is here in Washington. In terms of access, it makes a lot of sense."
Just last week, the NASPE-Heart Rhythm Society, which represents abut 3,500 physicians and allied specialties in cardiac pacing and electrophysiology, announced that it has changed its name to the Heart Rhythm Society as it prepares to move into new offices in downtown Washington on Dec. 13 after a quarter-century in Natick, Mass. The goal, said James Youngblood, the group's chief executive officer, is to "raise the profile and image of the organization."
The AMA's study concluded that relocating Maves and about six or seven other employees in his office could provide a "potentially positive" impact for the organization. It estimated one-time costs for the limited move at about $400,000. Those employees presumably would join about 65 others who staff the AMA Washington office a few blocks north of the White House.
The study noted, however, that relocating the 945 employees now working in the AMA's offices just west of Chicago's "Magnificent Mile" shopping district along Michigan Avenue would cost almost $52 million. The price tag included some assumptions about the difficulties of sub-leasing space in the AMA's current headquarters because of Chicago's saturated office market.
Though two sources in Washington mentioned hearing recent rumors that the AMA is seriously considering moving its headquarters, an official with the organization pointed out that the report said such a full-scale relocation would provide "limited benefit" and "would not be the most efficient and effective use of our resources, given the associated cost." The report did add, however, that "individual moves may occur over time as required."
A move by Maves would mirror the strategy adopted more than a decade ago by the American Hospital Association. Though its official headquarters and most of its business operations remain in Chicago, the heart and soul of the AHA's operation, including the offices of the president and policy and communications departments, were transferred to Washington shortly after Richard Davidson was named its top executive in 1991. At the time, the AHA had about 500 employees in Chicago and only about 60 in Washington. Now, about 100 staffers work in Washington and 200 or so are in Chicago, AHA officials said.
The AHA's eastward shift, such as the AMA's proposed move, was based primarily on boosting the organization's influence in a city where so many decisions are made that affect the group. Its D.C. base, in fact, is just around the corner from the federation's office.
"One of the first things Dick wanted was for the office of president to be in D.C.," said AHA spokesman Richard Wade. "For symbolic reasons, since advocacy was the No. 1 mission that members gave the AHA, it was appropriate for the office of the president to be in D.C."