For one hundred years, the Brookings Institution has been a leader in generating ideas to address pressing national and global challenges. As we enter our second century, we look back at key milestones of our first.
The Founding Moment
A group of leading educators, businessmen, attorneys, and financiers—including businessman and philanthropist Robert S. Brookings—found the Institute for Government Research (IGR), the predecessor of the Brookings Institution, in Washington, DC. It is the first private organization devoted to bettering the practices and performance of government with recommendations generated by outside experts. Its first research project, directed by economist William Willoughby, focuses on helping the Bureau of Internal Revenue revise the reporting of tax statistics for greater accuracy.
President Wilson Appoints Mr. Brookings to War Board
President Woodrow Wilson appoints Robert Brookings to the War Industries Board, which coordinates the purchase of military supplies, and later makes him chairman of the board’s Price Fixing Committee, to discourage profiteering.
Toward a National Budget System
IGR publishes “A National Budget System: the Most Important of all Governmental Reconstruction Measures.” The Institute’s director, William Willoughby, testifies on the subject to a House Select Committee on the Budget.
The Greatest Reform
IGR recommendations lead to the crafting and passage of the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, which expands executive power in the federal budget process. President Warren Harding calls it “the beginning of the greatest reform in governmental practices since the beginning of the republic.”
Robert Brookings Creates the Institute of Economics
Robert Brookings leads the creation of a new organization, the Institute of Economics, for the “sole purpose of ascertaining the facts about current economic problems and of interpreting these facts for the people of the United States.” Harold Moulton, an economist at the University of Chicago, is named its director.
Studies in Post-War Reparations
Harold Moulton and staff economist Constantine McGuire write of post-Great War Europe that “the reparation situation has gone from very bad to worse.” In their reports they study the ability of Germany and its allies on the losing side of World War I to pay the debts mandated by the Versailles Treaty.
A Graduate School Is Created
The Robert S. Brookings Institute of Economics and Government for Teaching and Research (later the Robert S. Brookings Graduate School of Economics and Government) is established in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis to provide training in public service. Between 1924 and 1930, the school awards 74 PhDs.
Three Organizations Merge into One
The Institute for Government Research (founded 1916), the Institute of Economics (1922), and the Robert Brookings Graduate School of Economics and Government (1923) merge to form The Brookings Institution, named for Robert Brookings in recognition of his services to all three organizations. Its mission: “to promote, carry on, conduct and foster scientific research, education, training and publication in the broad fields of economics, government administration and the political and social sciences generally.”
First President Is Chosen
The Brookings Trustees choose the organization’s first president: Harold Moulton, who had been director of the Institute of Economics and a member of the boards of the Graduate School and the Institute for Government Research.
Survey of American Indian Conditions
Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work commissioned IGR’s Lewis Meriam to undertake a comprehensive survey of the condition of Native Americans. The resulting report is influential in shaping American Indian affairs policies in the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations.
Brookings begins its own in-house publishing division, the forerunner of the Brookings Institution Press.
The Founder Dies
Robert Brookings dies in Washington, D.C. on November 15, at the age of 82. Just before his death, Brookings’s book The Way Forward, in which he calls for the more equal distribution of wealth, is published.
The Pioneering Capacity Studies
The Institution publishes four works known as the “capacity studies” on income distribution and economic progress in the mid-1930s. The studies focus on production and consumption capacity, capital, and market speculation in the 1920s, and income distribution as it relates to the efficient functioning of the U.S. economic system. The capacity studies are the major guide to the U.S. economy for policymakers for much of the decade.
Analyzing New Deal Programs
An Institute of Economics team directed by staff economist Leverett Lyon publishes a comprehensive study of President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration (NRA), a New Deal agency. The study’s authors conclude that the NRA impeded economy recovery after the Depression. Two years later, Edwin Nourse, an agriculture economist and director of the Institute of Economics, publishes a study of administrative problems in the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace said that “We’ve been doing so much wishful thinking around here, we’d benefit from an independent audit.” Nourse went on to become the first chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Harry Truman.
New Focus on Executive Office Organization
In “Reorganization of the national government: What does it involve?” Brookings scholars shed light on President Roosevelt's Reorganization Act of 1939, which permitted the president to reorganize certain aspects of the executive branch and created the Executive Office of the President.
Supporting the War Effort
Throughout World War II, Brookings experts recommend policies on a variety of issues, including wartime price controls, military mobilization, German and U.S. manpower requirements, and later, postwar demobilization and preventing Germany and Japan from re-arming. Even before U.S. entry into the war, one Brookings researcher advised that “The United States should introduce the formula of the blitzkrieg in the armament production program” to defeat Germany.
A study by Brookings scholar Laurence Schmeckebier developed the system of apportioning congressional representation among the states that was embodied in the Congressional Apportionment Act of 1941.
Foreign Policy Group Created
After returning to Brookings from a nine-year stint at the State Department, during which he prepared the final draft of the UN Charter, economist Leo Pasvolsky establishes and becomes first director of the International Studies Group at Brookings. ISG fulfills the need for research and education in international relations and is the precursor to what will become the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. For six years until his death in 1953, Pasvolsky and the ISG conduct educational programs for academic, military, government, and business leaders.
Studying a National Health Insurance Program
At the request of Senator H. Alexander Smith, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Health of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, Brookings scholars take on a study of compulsory health insurance. Two proposals emerge: grants-in-aid to states that will ensure quality medical attention for those who need it; and the formation of a compulsory health insurance program by the national government. The study concludes that a national health insurance program would be too political, too expensive, and too detrimental to the nation’s economic health.
A Critical Role in the Marshall Plan
At the request of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Brookings experts play a pivotal role in the development of the European Recovery Program, later known as the Marshall Plan, providing valuable recommendations on the program’s administrative organization.
Recommendations on Public Welfare to the Hoover Commission
Brookings experts conduct research that forms the basis of a task force report on public welfare, prepared for the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, also known as the Hoover Commission.
On National Transportation Policy
Brookings scholars Charles Dearing and Wilfred Owen publish “National Transportation Policy,” recommending the creation of a new department of transportation headed by a new cabinet secretary. In the 1950s, Owen continued to write about the nation’s infrastructure and transportation inefficiencies.
Pay-As-You-Go Social Security
Brookings scholars Lewis Meriam and Karl Schlotterbeck, in “The Cost and Financing of Social Security,” weigh in on legislation to change social security programs, arguing for a pay-as-you-go system. They criticize comparing social security programs to private insurance, and argue that “the situation which the country now faces thus suggests the wisdom of adopting a social security system that provides suitably for old persons and others now in need, pays the costs from current revenues, and makes no long-term commitments with respect to future payments.”
Second Brookings President Named
Economist and educator Robert Calkins becomes the second president of Brookings. Calkins was formerly director of the General Education Board, a foundation that promoted educational improvements in the South, as well as an academic at UC Berkeley and the Columbia University Business School. His broad experience in philanthropy and public affairs are welcome qualities as the Institution seeks to attract new researchers and general funding.
Studies on the United Nations
Shortly before his death in 1953, Leo Pasvolsky initiates a series of studies on the United Nations that looked at the features of the UN system to provide a better public understanding of its capabilities and limitations. The studies were published after his death under the direction of Robert Hartley, who succeeded Pasvolsky.
Birth of Executive Education at Brookings
Brookings President Robert Calkins spearheads a new program of education for senior government executives. The program contributes to passage of the Federal Training Act of 1958 that provides across-the-board federal employee training to improve government productivity. In 1962, the program is renamed the Advanced Study program, forerunner of today’s Brookings Executive Education, which continues to offer courses for federal employees on critical issues, the policymaking process, and public leadership.
A Hard Look at the National Debt Ceiling
In “The National Debt Ceiling: An Experiment in Fiscal Policy,” Brookings’s Marshall Robinson argues that the debt ceiling had not only failed, but backfired. The study is quoted in congressional debates during the 1960s, and again in 2013.
A New Home for Brookings
After the federal government uses eminent domain in 1957 to take over Brookings’s Jackson Place headquarters, which it has occupied since 1931, the Institution builds a new headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue, just east of Dupont Circle.
Smoothing the Transition between Administrations
Ahead of the 1960 presidential election, Brookings scholar Laurin Henry leads the Presidential Transitions project to help the winning presidential candidate—either John F. Kennedy or Richard M. Nixon—launch his administration smoothly. The book is followed by a series of confidential issues papers prepared by Brookings experts.
Economic Research in Vietnam
Brookings begins a four-year program with the Ford Foundation and the Government of South Vietnam to provide assistance in tax policy, fiscal policy, and economic planning to the national government in Saigon down to provinces and villages.
Advice to the New Space Program
As America's space program is just getting off the ground, Brookings experts prepare a report for NASA on “Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs.” The authors make dozens of recommendations for additional studies on the social, economic, political, legal, and international implications of the use of space. The report is submitted to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics of the 87th Congress. It continues to be known today for its few paragraphs on the implications of a discovery of extraterrestrial life.
India’s “Quiet Crisis”
Brookings scholar John Lewis publishes “The Quiet Crisis in India,” an in-depth study of India's rural development. Lewis makes the case for aid to India and the developing world as a component of U.S. foreign policy. The work is published in India just two years later, in the same year as the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s founding prime minister. Lewis later becomes USAID/India Mission director.
Economic Integration in Latin America
Brookings Foreign Policy and Governmental Studies programs, in conjunction with several Latin American research organizations, coordinate a program of studies on trade and investment policies in Latin America that lasts into the early 1980s. The program is said to have strengthened the economics profession in Latin America.
Death of Mrs. Brookings, Key Supporter
Isabel Vallé January Brookings, wife of Robert S. Brookings, dies on April 7, aged 89, and leaves the Institution an $8 million bequest. She was a dedicated supporter of the Brookings Institution, having also contributed money to build Brookings’s building on Lafayette Square near the White House.
Brookings Enters the Computer Age
Brookings establishes the Social Science Computation Center for Research, which offers state- of-the-art computational research support for scholars, including use of a mainframe computer.
Anniversary Address from LBJ
“You are a national institution, so important to, at least, the Executive Branch and, I think, the Congress, and the country,” says President Johnson at an event marking the Institution's 50th anniversary, “that if you did not exist we would have to ask someone to create you.”
Third President Hails from Budget Bureau
In 1967, Kermit Gordon becomes the third president of Brookings. Prior to his tenure at Brookings, he served as the director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Agenda for the Nation
Brookings publishes the first in a series of “Agenda for the Nation” volumes, which are collections of papers on domestic and foreign policy issues. In 1970, a pair of reviews appear: one by former Vice President Hubert Humphrey —then a professor at the University of Minnesota—and another by current Vice President Spiro Agnew. “In ‘Agenda for the Nation,’” writes Humphrey, “the Brookings Institution has once again been of substantial assistance.” Agnew writes that the volume’s authors and others “who are assisting the contemporary search for improved governmental machinery and for a clarification of goals and priorities, must be considered to be an indispensable part of our governmental process.”
Cold War Defense Analyses
Under the leadership of Kermit Gordon and Foreign Policy Program Director Henry Owen, Brookings establishes the Defense Analysis Project to study issues such as defense support costs and U.S., NATO, and Soviet force structures. Work from the project is influential among congressional decision-makers.
Brookings Papers on Economic Activity
Brookings scholars Arthur Okun and George Perry introduce the first edition of the “Brookings Papers on Economic Activity,” which remains a highly influential and respected economics journal.
Creation of the Congressional Budget Office
Brookings experts begin a new series of studies on the federal budget and congressional spending choices, which eventually lead to the creation of the Congressional Budget Office; Brookings scholar Alice Rivlin becomes the founding director of the CBO in 1975.
Setting National Priorities
Brookings releases the first report in the highly acclaimed and influential “Setting National Priorities” series, a cross-program initiative focused on evaluating annual White House budgets as they are released and examining the domestic and foreign policy choices that confront the U.S. The report is published annually from 1971 -1983 and then in 1990, 1997, and 1999.
“Blow the safe and get it!”
“Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it,” President Richard Nixon says to aides on June 17, believing that a safe in a Brookings office contains a copy of secret files on the 1968 Vietnam bombing halt that Nixon believed he could use to blackmail former President Johnson with. The files are not at Brookings. Legend holds that Brookings security guard Roderick Warren turns away two suspicious men who attempt to get into the building.
Okun’s “Equality and Efficiency” Published
Brookings publishes Arthur Okun’s “Equality and Efficiency,” a book that explores “the big tradeoff” between society’s desire to reduce inequality and the risk of impairing economic efficiency. The book also examines how redistributing income affects economic growth.
Middle East Study Group Recommendations
Following the fourth war between Arab states and Israel in 1973, Brookings releases recommendations of the Middle East Study Group, a diverse assembly of distinguished Americans tasked with considering how the U.S. might help in the achievement of a workable, fair, and enduring settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Organizing the Presidency
Brookings scholar Stephen Hess, a former White House staff member, publishes “Organizing the Presidency.” In it, he conducts an examination of how various presidents have organized their offices and staff and sheds light on how the presidency has become an institution unto itself.
Studies on Soviet Military Power
In 1977 and 1981, Barry Blechman and Stephen Kaplan author books on the Soviet military buildup. Blechman, then head of the defense analysis staff at Brookings, discusses how the U.S. should respond to Soviet strengthening of military forces and defense programs. Kaplan, a Brookings research associate, presents case studies on Soviet use of military power to attain political objectives outside of its borders.
Fourth President Comes to Brookings
The Board of Trustees names Bruce MacLaury the fourth president of Brookings. Before coming to Brookings, he served as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Do More on School Desegregation
Brookings researcher Gary Orfield publishes “Must We Bus? Segregated Schools and National Policy,” in which he argues that American schools have a legal and moral obligation to desegregate. Orfield calls out school and government officials for intentionally dragging their feet through this process and asserts that more must be done to achieve the goal of desegregation than simply busing students to different schools. The book continues to be cited in academic literature.
American Decision-Making in Vietnam
Brookings scholar Leslie Gelb (now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations) and then-Brookings research associate Richard Betts (later a Harvard and Columbia professor) conclude in a study of America’s role in Vietnam that while the foreign policy outcome of America’s involvement was a failure, the decision-making system worked as designed. Yale historian Gaddis Smith wrote that “If an historian were allowed but one book on the American involvement in Vietnam, this would be it.”
Tracking Vital Stats on Congress
Brookings’s Thomas Mann and AEI’s Norm Ornstein jointly publish “Vital Statistics on Congress,” detailing the election and composition of its membership, party structure, and staff. Mann and Ornstein also document the growing partisan divide in Congress and track the demographics of senators and representatives. The book, updated regularly, is published entirely online in 2013.
Informing the Tax Reform Act of 1986
Brookings initiates a multi-year project on tax reform led by experts Henry Aaron and Harvey Galper, under the supervision of Economic Studies Program Director Joe Pechman. Their research helps inform the Tax Reform Act of 1986, a major bill that had a profound impact on the U.S. economy. Pechman’s “Federal Tax Policy” is essential to those reforms.
New Thinking about School Competition
In “Politics, Markets, and America's Schools,” Brookings’s John Chubb and Terry Moe examine the growing dissatisfaction with the school system in America. They identify its maladies and propose a new system of public education constructed around competition among schools, parent-student choice, and agency within the system.
Reforming and Renewing Congress
Brookings’s Thomas Mann and AEI’s Norm Ornstein continue their collaboration, publishing reports from the Renewing Congress Project, which focuses on ways to improve congressional debate and action on legislation, enhance relationships between parties, and fix the campaign finance system. Their work makes a significant contribution to the debate about congressional reform.
Another View on the Cold War’s End
Raymond Garthoff authors “The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War.” His research shows that the U.S. did not win the Cold War with President Reagan’s military buildup, but instead, “‘victory’ came when a new generation of Soviet leaders realized how badly their system at home and their policies abroad had failed.”
A Metropolitan Agenda
In 1994, Anthony Downs authors “New Visions for Metropolitan America,” a discussion of the problem of rapid expansion of cities and suburban areas. In 1998, Bruce Katz’s “Reviving Cities: Think Metropolitan,” examines problems caused by explosive urban sprawl and emphasizes the necessity of a federal metropolitan agenda. Katz later becomes founding director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.
Brookings Gets Online
Brookings launches its website, located at the fashionably short URL www.brook.edu, soon after the debut of widely used web browsers.
Brookings’s Fifth President a Foreign Policy Veteran
Michael Armacost becomes the fifth president of Brookings. Armacost previously served as undersecretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to Japan and the Philippines, and held senior policy positions on the staff of the National Security Council and in the Departments of State and Defense.
Causes of Yugoslavia’s Breakup
In her book, “Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War,” Brookings scholar Susan Woodward studies the impact of collapsing state authority and worsening economic conditions in triggering Yugoslavia’s breakup. The book presents a challenge to conventional modes of thought and is released to positive reviews.
Agent-Based Computer Models
In “Growing Artificial Societies,” Brookings scholars Josh Epstein and Rob Axtell apply agent-based computer modelling in their groundbreaking study of human social interactions. They model an artificial society “from the bottom up” that can account for evolutionary change.
Crisis of the Internally Displaced
In “Masses in Flight: The Global Crisis of Internal Displacement,” Brookings’s Francis Deng and Roberta Cohen analyze the causes and consequences of internal displacement. The late U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, a former ambassador to the United Nations, called the book “a landmark study.”
Extending the Child Tax Credit
A proposal by Brookings scholar Isabel Sawhill helps forge bi-partisan support in Congress to extend the benefits of the child tax credit in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 to lower- and middle-income families.
Radio/TV Studio Opens for Business
Brookings’s TV and radio studio opens for business, exactly one week before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The first live television feed occurs on the afternoon of 9/11 with CNN.
Responding with Ideas to 9/11
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Brookings experts produce numerous proposals for homeland security and intelligence operations, including “Protecting the American Homeland.” They also testify before Congress and use the Institution’s outreach capabilities to explain the new global reality to a frightened public.
Sixth President Comes to Brookings
Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state and ambassador-at-large for the new independent states of the former Soviet Union, becomes Brookings’s sixth president. The year Talbott takes over, the staff numbers just over 270. It exceeds 500 today.
Public Service Reform Ideas
The second National Commission on the Public Service, led by former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, releases a set of recommendations for government reform, “Urgent Business for America.” The Commission, a project of a Brookings policy center, offers rationales and ideas for reorganizing the federal government that stem from the work of the center.
How to Carry on Government Functions
The Continuity of Government Commission, a joint effort between Brookings and AEI, issues the first of a set of reports on how to carry on the functions of government in the event of a massive and catastrophic attack on the main institutions of the U.S. government. These reports are: “The Continuity of Congress” (2003), “The Continuity of the Presidency” (2009), and “The Continuity of the Supreme Court” (2011).
Influencing Legislation on Retirement Saving
Brookings scholars William Gale, Mark Iwry, and Peter Orszag make the case that helping Americans save for retirement requires financial incentives for low- and middle-income workers coupled with new corporate practices to make saving easier. Legislation inspired by their work makes them three of the most-quoted and most-influential economists in the U.S.
A Program in Metropolitan Policy Is Established
In 2004, the Metropolitan Policy Program is established at Brookings. Emerging from the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy (founded in 1996), it becomes the Institution’s fourth research program. Bruce Katz is the program's founder and Amy Liu is the co-founder.
Brookings Expands Overseas
Brookings opens its first overseas offices, one in Beijing, China and another in Doha, Qatar. A third overseas center, Brookings India, opens in New Delhi in 2013.
Fifth Research Program, on Global Economics and Development
The Global Economy and Development program is officially established as the fifth Brookings research program. The program originated in the Global Poverty Reduction Initiative, founded three years before. Lael Brainard is the program's first vice president and director. She later serves as undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and a Federal Reserve governor.
The Iraq “Surge”
Brookings scholars provide analysis and recommendations throughout the Iraq War. Three scholars —Michael O’Hanlon, William Quant, and Shibley Telhami—participate in the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group in 2006, which recommends an increase in U.S. combat troops in Iraq that occurs in 2007.
President Obama Addresses Brookings
President Barack Obama chooses Brookings as the venue for announcing, in December 2009, his plan for creating jobs and spurring economic growth.
Bending the Health Care Cost Curve
The Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform’s report, “ Bending the Curve: Effective steps to address long-term healthcare spending growth,” is widely credited as being the most constructive contribution to the conversation on addressing long-term growth in health care spending.
The Carbon Pricing Idea
Recovery from the Great Recession
Brookings experts shape the debate on how best to recover from the Great Recession with a steady stream of analysis and recommendations on fiscal and monetary stimulus plans, as well as the automotive and banking bailouts.
Fragile States and National Security
In 2010, Susan Rice, Brookings expert and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, serves as an editor for the book “Confronting Poverty: Weak States and U.S. National Security.” The book highlights how the effects of poverty in fragile states can spill over borders and threaten U.S. national security. Rice becomes National Security Advisor in 2013.
Fixing Presidential Appointments
In 2010, E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Bill Galston convene a bipartisan working group of experts to address problems and solutions with the broken presidential appointments process. Their efforts and report, “A Half-Empty Government Can't Govern,” inform Senate passage of the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, which becomes law in 2011.
Leading the Field of Happiness Economics
Brookings scholar Carol Graham, a leader in the field of “happiness economics,” authors, “Happiness around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires,” in which she studies happiness across developed and developing countries.
Attention to Global Cities
Brookings launches the Global Cities Initiative—a joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase—a five-year project that aims to help leaders in U.S. metropolitan areas reorient their economies toward greater engagement in world markets. The Initiative continues to build an international network of metropolitan leaders who are committed to strengthening competitiveness.
Input on Sustainable Development Goals
Brookings experts provide formative input on the development of the next generation of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, contributing to their mission to improve the lives of people worldwide. Expert Homi Kharas is appointed lead author and executive secretary for the UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, whose report provides a road map for the future of global development efforts.
Longform Debuts at Brookings
The Institution launches The Brookings Essay series, a collection of commissioned longform works on major topics of public policy. The pieces are authored by distinguished authors, including Brookings experts.
Brookings Opens New Delhi Center
In recognition of India’s growing importance on the world stage, as the world’s largest democracy and a rapidly growing economic center, the Brookings India center opens in New Delhi. Organized and staffed in large part by Indian nationals, it serves as a platform for relevant and productive research centered on India’s changing role in the world.
Let Girls Learn
The Center for Universal Education at Brookings joins the Let Girls Learn Initiative, which is championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. The center has for a long time been at the forefront of research on best practices and tools for educating girls worldwide.
A New Retirement Security Vehicle
In his State of the Union address, President Obama promotes the Automatic IRA to increase workers’ retirement security. The idea originated in research by the Retirement Security Project at Brookings.
Brookings’s Second Century Begins
The original and enduring mission of the Brookings Institution is to improve governance. As Brookings celebrates its 100th year and begins its second century, it is leveraging the breadth and depth of expertise of its scholars through interdisciplinary approaches to complicated, multi-faceted problems. As traditional political, economic, and security systems change and, in many cases, weaken in response to shifting circumstances and innovation, Brookings will work with the public and private sectors, as well as civil society, to help policy keep pace with a changing world.