The research agenda
The type of research that policy analysts
do depends on where they work. The mission of think tanks
and associations sets the agenda for analysts who work
there. For those working in government, research topics
depend on the needs of the government agency.
At smaller, more specialized think tanks,
analysts must be experts in their organizationís niche.
Larger think tanks may also hire policy analysts to
specialize in a particular area, but they might have
generalists on staff who research multiple areas.
Many think tanks try to avoid an
ideological bias, but others promote specific social
agendas or political philosophies. Usually, analysts who
work for an organization with a particular viewpoint share
Policy analysts often take the initiative
when deciding what to work on. They might come up with
topics on their own, or they might meet in groups to
generate proposals. Wilkinson, for example, chooses his
work by looking for gaps in researchóissues that are
important but that have not been covered.
In some organizations, analysts are
constrained to topics for which they can find funding. A
client or a donor might also suggest topics.
Once a researcher has an idea, he or she
writes a policy proposal and submits it to a program
leader for approval to undertake the project. Decisions
about what to study are often driven by media and
legislative interest, but that doesnít mean policy
analysts pursue every current topic. Topics must be
important to an organization or government program.
Policy analysts in government work on
either broad or specialized issues, depending on their
agency and position. These analysts must react to proposed
changes in law, regulations, and policies. They also must
respond to inquiries by government officials and the
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
does not classify policy analysts as a separate occupation
and, therefore, does not have data on their employment or
earnings. Depending on their research specialty, workers
who analyze policy might be counted as political
scientists, economists, sociologists, lawyers, urban and
regional planners, or natural scientists, among other
Workers who analyze policy for the Federal
Government usually need significant expertise and
experience. Many are at the GS-15 level, which currently
pays about $93,000 to $145,000, depending on experience.
Some people also work as lower-level Government analysts,
helping more experienced workers or focusing on small
projects. These workers, who usually have at least a
masterís degree, often begin at the GS-7 level, which
currently pays about $31,740.
Salaries for policy analysts vary widely
at think tanks and other private organizations. Analystsí
earnings depend on factors such as worker qualifications
and the organizationís size and budget. Earnings also
depend on how the organization gets its money. Think tanks
may be funded by endowments, individual and corporate
contributions, contracts with public or private
organizations, and grants from government agencies,
universities, or foundations.
At think tanks that do not have
fundraising departments or large endowments, analysts are
often responsible for obtaining funding. "You have to
be a combination of researcher and entrepreneur,"
says think-tank analyst Tom LaTourette. "You have to
be enterprising in coming up with new initiatives and
In search of funding, think-tank analysts
often write grant proposals and negotiate contracts with
government agencies and private organizations. Analysts
first need to identify the issues that will be important
to specific donors and clients, and then identify which
donors and clients might be willing to offer funds.
Finally, analysts must pitch their ideas to secure the
Government analysts usually do not need to
search for funding, although they may still need to write
proposals about what they want to research and why.
Some policy analysts are hired as consultants by other
organizations, including Federal agencies, State and local
governments, and corporations. In such arrangements,
analysts are paid to evaluate the hiring organizationís
performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and
recommend changes or to help the organization make or
analyze decisions about policy and procedures.
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