Brookings Institution

views updated May 17 2018


The Brookings Institution is a private, independent, and nonpartisan research institution dedicated to the study of policy issues of U.S. national interest. It conducts research and disseminates its findings to the nation's leadership as well as to the general public, in the hope of offering practical solutions to problems in the areas of government, economics, and foreign policy. It prides itself on the caliber of its research fellows, the timeliness of its research, and the jargon-free accessibility of its publications on complex issues.


The Brookings Institution provides an institutional base for scholars drawn from within academia as well as from the fields of government, business, and the professions. Although the institution does not exercise control over the results of the research, its president and board of directors do set the general research agenda. Having identified the problems that need to be addressed, the institution then invites specialists in relevant fields to conduct the necessary research and, when the work is done, provides a publishing venue to disseminate the results to the public.

In addition to serving this research function, the institution conducts graduate programs in economics, foreign and domestic policy, and urban issues, among other subjects. It provides facilities for visiting scholars engaged in private research relevant to the institution's own areas of interest. In addition it awards postdoctoral research fellowships to qualified individuals and sponsors advanced study seminar programs, which are open to government officials, business executives, labor leaders, and others.

Research at the institution falls under three general areas of specialization: economics, foreign policy, and government. Within each of these general disciplinary areas, there are a number of individual policy centers devoted to specific topics. Thus the economics policy center is comprised of the Urban Center, which focuses on urban development and the resolution of problems facing the nation's cities, and the Center on Social and Economic Dynamics, which studies such things as demographic change. In foreign policy there is the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies and the Center on the U.S. and France. Under government, there is the Brookings Center on Educational Policy and the Center for Public Service.

One important division in the government studies area is the Presidential Appointee Initiative. This center, established in the 1960s, provides guidance, advice, and training for individuals joining government service during the transition from one presidential administration to the next. The goal here is to guarantee the smooth continuity of governmental services and programs.

The institution also operates the Brookings Institution Press, which publishes the results of recent and ongoing research. In addition to books, the press also publishes the highly respected Brookings Review, a quarterly newsletter that features articles, written by the staff, dealing with the important policy issues of the day. It also produces several annual papers on educational policy, trade issues, economic activity, financial services, and urban affairs. The Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association, a research center at the institution, publishes Economia, a semiannual review of economic policy issues of importance in that region of the world.

Financial Support

The institution supports its activities with an endowment, supplemented by grants from foundations, corporations, and private individuals. In addition, it contracts to undertake research for the government and collects fees for some of its educational programs. It does not accept direct government funding, however, and maintains its independence from governmental control by asserting its right to independently publish its findings, even when the research is done in service to a government contract.


The institution is run by a board of trustees, which approves research projects and is charged with maintaining the independence of the organization. Heading the board is the institution's president, who acts as chief administrative officer and serves the important roles of fund-raiser and organizational spokesperson. The actual research is conducted by a professional staff of residential scholars, assisted in their efforts by the contributions of academics and professionals whenever the need arises.


In 1916 a group of civic-minded business executives and educators came together to discuss their perception that the day-to-day operation of the government was woefully in need of modernization. They formed the Institute for Government Research (IGR), the first private organization dedicated to research in the field of public policy. The IGR set as its first task the reorganization of the accounting and operational practices used by various government agencies. Their success in this effort earned them the role of adviser to Congress as it drafted accounting and budgeting legislation in the early 1920s.

Over the next few years other groups were formed that shared the IGR's concerns, notably the Institute of Economics (founded in 1922) and the Robert Brookings Graduate School (founded in 1924). In 1927 these two organizations joined forces with IGR to form the Brookings Institution, named for the St. Louis businessman who provided much of the inspiration for the enterprise. Robert Somers Brookings was named first chairperson of the new institution.

Robert Brookings provided more than inspiration and leadership during the institution's early years. Over his lifetime he personally contributed more than $1 million to the enterprise. On his death in 1932, however, his financial support ended, and the institution had to find new funding sources. It began to accept contract work from the government and private organizations, and for the next several years these provided the bulk of its income. Institute research contributed to much of the important legislation and administrative and policy initiatives of the 1930s and 1940s, including the development of the accounting procedures that supported the Social Security Administration, researching the problems of mobilization and manpower needs before the United States' entry into World War II, and the development of the Marshall Plan for European postwar recovery.

In 1952 the institution underwent significant reorganization, during which the three-field division of research into centers for economic, government, and foreign policy studies was developed. Academic specialists were actively recruited, and the institution gained broader public recognition. Throughout the next two decades the institution enjoyed the respect and support of the nation's political leadership, but this relationship broke down during the Nixon administration.

During this time the government began developing its own policy analysis capabilities and the Congressional Office of the Budget was formed, thus eliminating many of the contract opportunities on which the institution had long depended for funding. The institution shifted focus to reflect these changes, expanding its outreach to the general population and increasing its educational programs. By 1995 the Brookings Institution had once again redefined its role, nearly eliminating its contract work with the government and placing greatest emphasis on independent research and educational programs. It remains, however, one of the most highly respected and influential policy think tanks in the nation's capital.

internet resource

Brookings Institution. 2002. <>

Charles B. Saunders

Revised by

Nancy E. Gratton

Brookings Institution

views updated May 14 2018


BROOKINGS INSTITUTION, a pioneer nonpartisan research foundation concerned with economic, social, defense, and international public policies. Founded in 1916 as the Institute for Government Research (IGR), the Brookings Institution is considered the first "think tank" in America. The IGR was established by a group of wealthy businessmen and educators to promote the idea of "economy and efficiency" in government through an executive federal budget system, which was finally enacted as the Budget and Accounting Act in 1921. In these early years they undertook studies in state and national government reorganization, as well as establishing a graduate program in government and economics in conjunction with Washington University, St. Louis, and the Institute for Economic Research.

In 1927, the IGR was reorganized as the Brookings Institution, supported by an endowment created by Robert S. Brookings, a St. Louis philanthropist. Under its first president, Harold G. Moulton, the Brookings Institution undertook major economic studies and evaluations of New Deal programs. Following the Second World War, the Brookings Institution gained a reputation as a liberal research organization. With renewed foundation support primarily from the Ford Foundation, it emerged as the preeminent think tank in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s becoming a major center for policy innovation in welfare, health care, education, housing, and taxation policy, as well as defense, international economic policy, and foreign affairs. Although challenged by the emergence of other think tanks, most notably the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Heritage Foundation (HF) on the right, and the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) on the left, the Brookings Institution maintained its reputation for analytically authoritative public policy research. The institution also has become a holding area for public officials and experts temporarily out of government. Although closely associated with the Democratic party, the Brookings Institution has cooperated in joint research projects with conservative think tanks such as the AEI and the HF, especially concerning free trade.


Critchlow, Donald T. The Brookings Institution, 1916–1952: Expertise and the Public Interest in a Democratic Society. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1985.

Dixon, Paul. Think Tanks. New York: Atheneum, 1971.

Ricci, David. The Transformation of American Politics: The New Washington and the Rise of Think Tanks. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

Smith, James Allen. The Idea Brokers: Think Tanks and the Rise of the New Policy Elite. New York: Free Press, 1991.

Donald T.Critchlow

See alsoFoundations, Endowed ; Think Tanks .

Brookings Institution

views updated May 29 2018


Founded in 1927, the Brookings Institution is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to research, education, and publication in the fields of economics, foreign policy, and government. It states as its principal purposes: "to aid in the development of sound public policies and to promote public understanding of issues of national importance."

Brookings maintains a 55,000-volume library. It is organized into the following divisions: Advanced Study, Economic Studies, Foreign Policy Studies, Governmental Studies (which includes some legal studies), Foreign Policy Studies, Governmental Studies, Publications, and a Social Science Computation Center.

The institution publishes the Brookings Bulletin (quarterly), the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (twice a year), and an Annual Report. It also publishes its extensive research in books and reprints.

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