Risk Analysis in Government

I got a bit schizo in class tonight. I call it that as a joke, primarily because sometimes I end up having these frantic moments of inspiration where I end up scribbling all over a piece of paper with ideas much in the way Russell Crowe’s character did in A Beautiful Mind. This used to happen a lot the last time I lived in DC when I attended frequent think tank events, and it happened a few times last year, but this year I’ve been rather inspiration-less in my classes. Our discussion moved into nuclear energy versus deepwater oil drilling, including cost-benefit analysis and risks. Energy security fascinates me, as does risk analysis. If I could combine the two into a sensical PhD program that was funded by someone else, I’d do it (maybe someday!).

I started thinking about how currently, the government has no centralized office or agency that deals with risk. Different agencies incorporate risk modeling in different ways, but the majority of regulatory decisions are made without calculating risk. Part of this is likely because of a lack of understanding and capability in terms of measuring real risk, but despite it’s inadequacies progress has been made that makes it worth attempting (in my opinion). Specifically in terms of nuclear energy and oil, energy security is directly tied to the risk of accidents and certain international events potentially changing the game. We can model these things, it just takes significant effort. DHS is working on but does not yet have an energy security office, but even if they did it is planned to be disconnected from their risk division. Even aside from energy, we need to have people in government applying this cutting edge techniques to predict possibilities beyond situation analyses in order to create solid, strong policies.

I got to thinking about expanding government in a sense, in terms of creating some form of agency or task force that had intelligence folks, engineers, statisticians, mathematicians, and political strategists that could sort of serve as a de facto consulting agency for other government organizations, only for risk. I know RAND sort of does that job right now, but we need to formally internalize the risk analysis process into our government, in my opinion. Or, if we can’t expand government to incorporate this, we can start building it into the public policy and education programs so that the next generation of analysts already are thinking about the subject.

Ideally, if I were on-campus next year, I’d try to develop a case competition utilizing resources and appealing to students from the business, engineering, and policy schools with sponsors from private sector organizations, RAND, and the CMU Center for Risk Perception and Communication. Risk and policy analysis, and create a problem situation and have people figure out how best to model risk for that situation.

I’ve been looking up different education programs and conferences, etc. and found that for public policy, Harvard (of course) is the best PhD program, but GW has a risk analysis certificate that looks promising. Unfortunately, since I don’t have a math degree or a background in calculus, I don’t know how far I’d get with it.

Anyhow, I just finished a spontaneous 3 hour conversation with my roommate. I think we just figured out how to fix our program’s capstone project process. I actually think it will be cool to work for the university for a few weeks – I’d like to figure out how to emphasize risk in the curriculum, as well as potentially find new ways to promote the program in the policy community. I’m all for recruiting new folks too and building the future network. I might actually have a chance to get creative, who knows.

Other random things to revisit – education as a way to improve efficiency, efficiency as a replacement for government expansion, big picture versus process versus detail oriented people.


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