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 called 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 adaptation of urban regions to a changing climate, 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 B.A. from Wellesley College, M.S.C.E. from MIT, and Ph.D. in geography and environmental engineering from the Johns Hopkins University.

Previous Positions

Vice President and Director, RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment (2004-2014)

Recent Projects

  • Infrastructure policy in the U.S.
  • Decision support for urban responses to climate change and impact on infrastructure planning
  • Federal aviation infrastructure and financing
  • Proposed analytic products for the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability
  • Valuation of energy resilience

Selected Publications

Fischbach, Jordan R., Debra Knopman, Heather Smith, Philip Orton, Eric W. Sanderson, Kim Fisher, Nerissa Moray, Adam Friedberg, and Adam Parris, Building Resilience in an Urban Coastal Environment: Integrated, Science-Based Planning in Jamaica Bay, New York, RAND (RR-2193-RF), 2018

Groves, David G., Debra Knopman, Neil Berg, Craig A. Bond, James Syme, and Robert J. Lempert, , Adapting Land Use and Water Management Plans to a Changing Climate in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, Florida, RAND (RR-1932), 2018

Cohen, D.A. and D. Knopman, "Existing Regulatory Approaches to Reducing Exposures to Chemical- and Product-Based Risk and Their Applicability to Diet-Related Chronic Disease," Risk Analysis, 2018

Crane, K., D. Knopman, N. Burger, A. Narayanan, J. Powers, and H. Willis, Scenario Development for the 2015 Quadrennial Energy Review: Assessing the Stresses, Opportunities, and Resilience in the Transmission, Storage, and Distribution Systems for Oil, Refined Products, Electricity, and Natural Gas, RAND Corporation (RR-1286), 2016 (forthcoming)

Knopman, D. and R.J. Lempert, Urban Responses to Climate Change: Framework for Decisionmaking and Supporting Indicators, RAND (RR-1144-MCF), 2016

Knopman, D., J. Zmud, L. Ecola, Z. Mao, and K. Crane, Quality of Life Indicators and Policy Strategies to Advance Sustainability in the Pearl River Delta, RAND Corporation (RR-871), 2015

Groves, D.G., J.R. Fischbach, D. Knopman, D.R. Johnson and K. Giglio, Strengthening Coastal Planning: How Coastal Regions Could Benefit from Louisiana's Planning and Analysis Framework, RAND Corporation (RR-437), 2014

Davis, L.E., D. Knopman, M. Greenberg, L. Miller, and A. Doll., Choosing a New Organization for Management and Disposition of Used Nuclear Fuel and Defense High-level Nuclear Waste, RAND Corporation (MG-1230), 2012

Honors & Awards

  • Alumnae Achievement Award, Wellesley College (2016)
  • 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: BBC; CNN; Fox News Channel; The Hill; Inside Sources; Las Vegas Sun; United Press International; U.S. News & World Report


  • Steel beams on the draw span, which needs replacement, are shown on the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2016

    The Long Game on Infrastructure

    The Trump administration recently announced its Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America. With its lack of new federal funding, the plan may not be the best path to fixing America's most serious regional, national, and long-term problems.

    Feb 20, 2018 U.S. News & World Report

  • The Colorado Aqueduct near the Iron Mountain Pumping Plant in Earp, California, April 16, 2015

    How Federal Policy Could Help Water and Wastewater Utilities

    A targeted approach could help the federal government address the root causes of infrastructure problems more effectively than a spending initiative that simply spreads money around with the hope that more spending might do some good.

    Jan 16, 2018 Inside Sources

  • Floating ice and iceberg in Antarctic Peninsula

    When It Comes to Climate, Look for Vulnerabilities in Policy, Not Science

    Federal policymakers have picked up on the concept of red teaming — actively seeking out one's own vulnerabilities. While red teaming may not make sense for climate science, it does offer great benefits when weighing climate policy options.

    Aug 4, 2017 The Hill

  • The Eiffel Tower is seen in front of the Sacre Coeur Basilica on Montmartre in Paris, France, during the 2015 World Climate Change Conference

    The Big Bet: Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement

    America's formal withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement could have far-reaching consequences for U.S. global leadership on many issues, not just on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Jun 2, 2017 Inside Sources

  • Steam rises from the coal-fired Jim Bridger power plant outside Rock Springs, Wyoming, April 5, 2017

    Impact on the Environment from President Trump's First 100 Days

    President Trump's actions have not yet resulted in demonstrable change in environmental conditions or funding. But the groundwork is being laid to unwind major regulations and diminish staff at the EPA and other federal agencies with climate-related research in their portfolios.

    May 4, 2017 BBC

  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the Shale Insight energy conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 22, 2016

    With Trump in the White House, States Could Step Up on Climate Change

    The new administration has expressed skepticism about climate change. But states may choose to pursue their own climate change initiatives.

    Nov 26, 2016 Fox News Channel

  • 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