Debra Knopman

Photo of Debra Knopman
Principal Researcher; Professor, Pardee RAND Graduate School
Washington Office


Ph.D. in geography and environmental engineering, Johns Hopkins University; M.S. in civil engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; B.A. in chemistry, Wellesley College

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email

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Debra Knopman is a principal researcher at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. She served as vice president and director of RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment (later Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment) from 2004 to 2014.

Knopman's expertise is in hydrology, environmental and natural resources policy, systems analysis and operations research, and public administration. Her project work spans a range of topics including long-term water management, policy options for disposition of nuclear waste, governance and funding for U.S. Gulf Coast recovery, and the design of a National Research Fund for Qatar.

She served for six years (1997–2003) as a member of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board and chaired the board's Site Characterization Panel. She was the director of the Progressive Policy Institute's Center for Innovation and the Environment from 1995 to 2000. From 1993 to 1995, Knopman was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior. She had previously been a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and later chief of the Branch of Systems Analysis in the USGS's Water Resources Division. From 1979 to 1983, she served first as legislative assistant for energy and environmental issues to Senator Daniel P. Moynihan and then as professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Knopman earned her Ph.D. in geography and environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

Recent Projects

  • Impact of climate change and other uncertainties on long-term water resources management

Selected Publications

Lynn E. Davis et al., Choosing a New Organization for Management and Disposition of Used Nuclear Fuel and Defense High-level Nuclear Waste, RAND Corporation (MG-1230), 2012

David Groves, Christopher Sharon, and Debra Knopman, Planning Tool to Support Louisiana's Decisionmaking on Coastal Protection and Restoration: Technical Description, RAND Corporation (TR-1266), 2012

Tom LaTourrette, Thomas Light, Debra Knopman, and James Bartis, Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel: Technical Approaches and Policy Options, RAND Corporation (MG-970), 2010

Victoria A. Greenfield et al., Design of the Qatar National Research Fund: An Overview of the Study Approach and Key Recommendations, RAND Corporation (TR-209), 2008

David Groves et al., Presenting Uncertainty About Climate Change to Water-Resource Managers: A Summary of Workshops with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, RAND Corporation (TR-505), 2008

Jacqueline MacDonald et al., Transferring Army BRAC Lands Containing Unexploded Ordnance: Lessons Learned and Options for the Future, RAND Corporation (MG-199), 2006

James P. Kahan et al., From Flood Control to Integrated Water Resource Management: Lessons for the Gulf Coast from Flooding in Other Places in the Last Sixty Years, RAND Corporation (OP-164), 2005

Debra Knopman et al., Systems of Innovation Within Public and Private Organizations: Case Studies and Options for the EPA: Report, RAND Corporation (DB-393), 2004

Honors & Awards

  • Woodrow Wilson Award for Distinguished Government Service, 2001, Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: Congressional Quarterly; Environment and Energy Daily; Investor's Business Daily; Washington Post

Commentary: CNN; United Press International


  • Environmentalists hold a banner which reads in part, "For the Climate," near the Eiffel Tower during the World Climate Change Conference 2015

    COP21: Ambition and Momentum

    Negotiators in Paris achieved a historic breakthrough by adopting a fundamentally different, and likely more effective, institutional framework to address climate change. It builds on two concepts missing from past attempts to forge a global treaty: voluntary participation and adaptive policymaking.

    Dec 17, 2015 The RAND Blog

  • Worker wearing a hazmat suit

    Breaking Down Nuclear Waste as a Two-Part Issue

    The U.S. Department of Energy is now planning separate repositories for commercial waste and the waste from the military's nuclear weapons production instead of disposing of both in the same repository as originally intended. Decoupling different parts of the nuclear waste problem is a small but positive step forward.

    May 5, 2015 Las Vegas Sun

  • Flood waters from Hurricane Isaac partially submerge homes in Lafitte, Louisiana neighborhoods in August 2012

    Future of Coastal Flooding

    President Obama's executive order that directs federal agencies to plan and build for higher flood levels as they construct new projects in flood-prone regions will affect hundreds of billions of dollars of future public works projects. In an ideal world, planners would estimate the benefits and costs for each project, taking into account everything from the details of the local landscape to the potential for adaptive responses over time.

    Feb 25, 2015 The Hill

  • A Glock 22 pistol is displayed at the Rocky Mountain Guns and Ammo store in Parker, Colorado, July 24, 2012

    Firearms and Gun Control: Many Questions, Some Answers

    President Obama's task force on gun violence has raised the stakes in the policy debate on gun control and policy in the wake of the recent shootings in Colorado and Connecticut. Some of RAND's top researchers share what is, and what isn't, known about firearms and gun control.

    Jan 17, 2013 The RAND Blog

  • Morris Canal Park in New York City with portions flooded by Sandy's storm surge, at high tide.

    What Louisiana Can Teach New York and New Jersey

    The massive damage and disruption caused by “Super Storm” Sandy has created a rare moment when New York City, New Jersey and surrounding areas are singularly focused on the infrastructure they need in a changing environment – not just the infrastructure they already have thanks to the vision and investments of past generations.

    Nov 8, 2012 CNN

  • UXOs at Closing U.S. Bases

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Aug 1, 2005 United Press International