Passionate, Pragmatic, Prudent: A New RAND President and RAND at Its Best


(RAND Review)

Problem, idea, and solution drawing on a blackboard

Photo by raffaelemontillo/Getty Images

by Michael D. Rich

January 13, 2012

Michael D. Rich, the new president and chief executive officer of the RAND Corporation, sat down with RAND Review to share his thoughts about his new role and the future of RAND.

What makes you so passionate about RAND?

Like everyone else, I want the world that my children and their children will live in to be better than ours—healthier, safer, more prosperous, and more secure. I want the problems we face to be addressed with the best available evidence about what works and what doesn't work. RAND is a collection of nearly 2,000 individuals who are dedicated to doing exactly that.

Tell us about RAND's research agenda. How has it changed? And what are the issues RAND is most focused on today?

Up until the mid-1960s, national defense and international affairs made up close to 100 percent of our research agenda. Now it's 50 percent. Our work in health, education, energy and the environment, civil justice, and the like has really blossomed. What we focus on starts with the challenges faced by senior policymakers in the public and private sectors. Right now, we are seeing greater demand to help clients meet the challenge of doing more with less. And RAND has a long track record of doing that, helping the military services and other public-sector organizations reduce and avoid costs—and make hard choices.

What are the major challenges facing RAND?

RAND is strictly nonpartisan. Yet it is more and more challenging to bring unbiased analysis into an increasingly polarized environment. RAND has something distinctive to offer in this regard. Especially in the face of likely public spending cuts, you can make a strong case that government decisionmakers need analytic resources like RAND's more than ever.

What's new about today's RAND?

We have exciting opportunities both in the United States and overseas to apply our unique brand of rigorous, objective, nonpartisan analysis. We're helping countries and communities become healthier, safer, more secure, and more prosperous. We are also seeing an increasing number of donors making gifts to RAND because they want problems addressed with facts and careful analysis. Their support helps us innovate and stay ahead of the curve on a wide range of important issues.

What experience has most prepared you for your new role as president and CEO?

My very first mentor at RAND, Nancy Nimitz, had a favorite saying: "Prepare to be surprised!" She taught me the RAND way: Don't settle on an answer or a position before analyzing all the evidence with the best methods and techniques, and until then, "prepare to be surprised." The lesson I learned from Nancy Nimitz in my first month at RAND is still probably the most valuable one.

You have been at RAND since 1976. After 35 years, what don't people know about you?

My favorite type of music is reggae.