News / USA

Research 'Think Tanks' Have Notable US Policy Role

One of the very first think tanks, and still one of the most prominent, is the RAND Corporation
One of the very first think tanks, and still one of the most prominent, is the RAND Corporation

Multimedia

Washington D.C. is filled with research organizations -- so-called "think tanks" -- that span the political spectrum and range from neutral to strongly ideological.  Some specialize in specific topic areas, such as in social problems, economics or defense.  All provide opinions on policy and aspects of governance. These think tanks also house officials from previous administrations who often return to government when their political party comes back in power.

Washington, D.C., like many other national capitals, is a city filled with opinions -- and research -- on nearly every topic one could imagine.

Many of these opinions are put forth by the scores of research organizations that make their homes here.  
These organizations, which some people nickname think tanks, are an integral part of the Washington process of examining issues and arriving at policy decisions.

One of the very first research organizations, and still one of the most prominent, is the RAND Corporation.  The name is a short form of the term "research and development."

RAND was created in the aftermath of World War II.  Media Relations Director Jeffrey Hiday, says the term think tank goes back to that era.

"The idea that [RAND] is a place where people were 'putting their heads together' and thinking," noted Hiday.  "And, coming up with ways to shape the world, and to improve the world. [Think tank] was a term that was used with RAND early on, but it is actually a term that we are not quite as comfortable with today. We very much try to call ourselves a 'research organization.'"

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton is now with a research organization in Washington called the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  He describes it as a collection of scholars, former government officials, and people who are interested in public policy -- and who write on public-policy issues.

"We have foreign policy experts, national defense experts, health care experts, [and] macro-economic policy experts," explained Bolton.  "In the case of AEI, you name a public policy issue [and] we have people who are working on it.  And we write this [these research reports] for decision makers in Congress and the Executive Branch - or, corporations, unions, opinion leaders in the media."

Ambassador Bolton's description fits many Washington research organizations. But some specialize on specific issues -- such as the Middle East, immigration, or drug policy.  And there are others which have strong ideological or political viewpoints, through which they frame their examination of the issues.

While similar research organizations can also be found in other world capitals, Georgetown University Public Policy Professor Mark Rom says they are bigger, and more prominent in the United States for a couple of reasons.

"We have a longer history of social science research [in the United States compared to many other countries], so we have lots of people doing the kinds of policy work that can influence government," noted Professor Rom.  "We have a for-profit sector that is willing to fund think tanks. So, think tanks tend to be fairly well funded here, perhaps by international standards. And again, our Constitution allows people to petition the government.  So, think tanks can say 'We think you should do this. It would be a good thing.' And, that is constitutionally protected.'"  

While providing political decision makers with research information is a common activity among think tanks, some go beyond that role and advocate a particular side or perspective to an issue.


Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

South Korea Divided on Response to North’s Cyber Attack

In past five years, officials in Seoul have accused Pyongyang of hacking into banks, government websites, causing chaos and inflicting millions of dollars in damages More

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Bentiu

Residents have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy, but planning for the future remains uncertain as fear of attacks looms More

2015 Could Be Watershed for Syria Conflict

Republican control of US Senate in January could lead to more aggressive policy against IS militants in Syria - and against regime of Bashar al-Assad More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil Wari
X
Adam Bailes
December 22, 2014 3:45 PM
In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.

All About America

AppleAndroid