Debra Knopman

Debra Knopman
Adjunct Engineer; Professor of Policy Analysis, Pardee RAND Graduate School
Off Site 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 an adjunct engineer at RAND, co-chair of the board of the Henry Luce Foundation, and a professor of policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

She served as vice president and director of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment from 2004 to 2014, and as principal researcher from 2014 to 2022.

Knopman's expertise is in hydrology, environmental and natural resources policy, systems analysis, and public administration. RAND projects include studies of adaptation of urban regions to a changing climate, long-term water management, capability development planning for the Air Force, policy options for nuclear waste disposal, and organizational design for R&D.

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 directed 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 was 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 the Johns Hopkins University, and her M.S.C.E. from MIT.

Concurrent Non-RAND Positions

Co-chair of Board of Trustees, Henry Luce Foundation; Member of the Board of The Asia Foundation; Member of the U.S. National Member Organization Committee of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Previous Positions

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

Recent Projects

  • Mid-Atlantic Regional Sciences and Assessments (MARISA) 2.0: Continuity and Expansion of Community-Based Engagement and Support
  • The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Mitigation Grant Program: Incorporating Hazard Risk and Social Equity into Decisionmaking Processes
  • Implementation Guidance for RAND PAF Resilience Valuation Framework
  • Federal aviation infrastructure and financing
  • Infrastructure policy in the U.S.

Selected Publications

Clancy, Noreen, Melissa L. Finucane, Jordan R. Fischbach, David G. Groves, Debra Knopman, Karishma V. Patel, and Lloyd Dixon, The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Mitigation Grant Program: Incorporating Hazard Risk and Social Equity into Decisionmaking Processes, RAND (RR-A1258), 2022

Miller, Benjamin M., Debra Knopman, Liisa Ecola, Brian Phillips, Moon Kim, Nathaniel Edenfield, Daniel Schwam, and Diogo Prosdocimi, U.S. Airport Infrastructure Funding and Financing: Issues and Policy Options Pursuant to Section 122 of the 2018 Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, RAND (RR-3175), 2020

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 Corporation (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

Knopman, Debra, Martin Wachs, Benjamin M. Miller, Scott G. Davis, and Katherine Pfrommer, Not Everything Is Broken: The Future of U.S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure Funding and Finance, RAND Corporation (RR-1739-RC), 2017

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

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
  • Luce Scholar, Henry Luce Foundation

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