Charles Zwick's signature achievement might seem superhuman in this era of staggering deficits and government shutdowns: He once balanced the U.S. federal budget.
It was a headline moment in a career that took Zwick from RAND to the White House and underscored the profound impact that careful research and analysis could have. The balanced budget he delivered in 1968, despite the war in Vietnam and political headwinds at home, would be unmatched until the boom years of the late 1990s.
Zwick gave his name and a $1 million gift to a special fund that helps RAND expand and broaden the reach of some of its most promising research. Zwick funds have enabled RAND to develop a national blueprint for dementia care, a guide for policymakers to transportation funding possibilities, and a website to help measure teacher effectiveness.
When RAND research showed that prison-education programs could sharply reduce recidivism rates, Zwick funds helped ensure that policymakers knew about it—prompting reform efforts at the state and federal level. More recently, researchers studying hazing in the military have used Zwick funds to create a hazing-prevention training program.
“RAND was one of the most important endeavors in my life,” Zwick said. “It is gratifying to see how the rigorous methodology and commitment to evidence that we valued when I worked here in the 1960s continue to be applied to the challenging problems we face today.”
Zwick worked as a researcher at RAND from 1956 to 1965, heading the Logistics Department and studying military and economic-assistance programs in Southeast Asia. He later served on the RAND Board of Trustees.
He left RAND to become the assistant director of what is now the White House Office of Management and Budget under President Lyndon Johnson. He became the director in 1968; the budget he submitted for 1969 was not just balanced, but even included a small surplus. The federal budget would not be back in the black again until 1998.
Zwick joined Southeast Banking Corporation in 1969 as its president and chief executive. He oversaw its expansion until his retirement in 1991.
He has been generous in his philanthropy in retirement, supporting public-policy research at RAND and elsewhere that addresses the challenges facing the nation and world. He explained his philosophy while announcing another gift in 2015 to further such research: “We are looking to see impact,” he said. “The world is changing fast, and we need to have clear data and thinking to guide us.”