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Management of Change

RAND Responds to a Transforming World

By James A. Thomson

James A. Thomson is president and chief executive officer of the RAND Corporation.

James Thomson

When I became president and CEO of RAND in August 1989, newspapers were covering the end of Poland’s communist regime and the push to form a new government under Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. Christians and Muslims were shelling one another in Beirut. The United States was again importing more than half of its petroleum, after having reduced its appetite for foreign oil for 12 years. And the state of New York was weighing whether to limit how often Medicaid patients could visit their physicians.

Now, as I prepare to leave this job after 22 years, I am struck by how much the world has changed and yet also by how similar some of today’s public policy problems are to those of two decades ago. I am struck just as keenly by how RAND has been able to react, reconfigure its operations, and continue offering trusted guidance on matters of utmost concern.

The transformation of Eastern Europe in 1989 marked a tectonic shift for RAND. Seemingly overnight, events overran the Cold War analysis for which this institution had become renowned. We had to rethink everything — strategy, research orientation, organization, hiring, and business practices — to adjust to the changing policy topography. We extended our assistance to decisionmakers across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. We became an international institution, advising policymakers around the globe. And we worked hard to make RAND a philanthropic priority for individuals and institutions that value objective analysis and its role in solving intractable problems.

The results speak for themselves. During the past two decades, RAND has done some of its most influential research. RAND analyses have saved U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars by helping policymakers streamline how they acquire airplanes, ships, and other military systems and by identifying ways to make the military logistics and personnel systems more effective and efficient. Just one strand of this research, focused on how the U.S. Army manages spare parts, has saved $1 billion since the start of the Iraq War.

Other seminal RAND work during this period has included these projects:

  • examining the psychological health of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
  • analyzing terrorism and devising counterterrorism policies
  • determining how much financial, societal, and military support is needed to conduct peacekeeping and nation-building operations
  • demonstrating how European governments can manage economic and social challenges posed by declining fertility rates and aging populations
  • guiding the post–Cold War drawdown of forces and the expansion of NATO
  • helping governments identify and implement policies to manage pandemic flu
  • evaluating community strategies to improve the quality of policing
  • helping Qatar’s government redesign its education and health care systems.

During this time, we also expanded our international work. In the past year alone, we began helping the People’s Republic of China establish a new “Knowledge City” in Guangdong Province; signed contracts to conduct research out of our newest office in Abu Dhabi; and initiated health, education, labor, and management analyses for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

I am immensely proud to have headed RAND during this creative period. The essence of policy analysis is helping clients and the public manage change, and at every turn RAND has been able to remain the world’s leading policy analysis institution by adapting, regrouping, and responding to the needs of policymakers and society. It has been a distinct privilege to oversee RAND for the past two decades, and it will be a continuing joy to watch it grow and evolve in the decades to come. square