(UnitedVoice.com) – We hear a lot from think tanks these days. Media outlets are always looking for quotes and comments, and think tanks are some of their go-to sources. However, journalists rarely tell us what agenda these organizations are pushing – and maybe they should. There’s a lot of money sloshing around the think tank industry, money that could be buying the thoughts big donors want to hear.
Billion Dollar Budgets
Research by the University of Pennsylvania shows that the top 50 US think tanks receive more than a billion dollars a year from the US government and major defense contractors. The bulk of it goes to a single, very influential group that does consultancy work for multiple branches of the government.
RAND Corporation was founded in 1948 by the Douglas Aircraft Company, which was a major supplier of military aircraft at the time – and, as part of McDonnell Douglas and then Boeing, has been ever since. Now RAND employs nearly 2,000 people and operates in the UK, Belgium and Australia as well as the US. It works closely with the Department of Defense and other branches of government, although its main focus is national security. Among other things RAND has helped to develop US nuclear weapons policy, to the extent it was spoofed as the BLAND Corporation in Dr. Strangelove.
The University of Pennsylvania’s research found that between 2014 and 2019 the RAND Corporation received $1,029,100,000 in funding from the government and defense contractors, with the biggest donors being the Department of Homeland Security, US Army and US Air Force. Current unclassified RAND projects include developing new Coast Guard strategies and future Army artillery and missile systems.
Are We Getting the Defense We Need?
There’s a big gap between RAND and the next best-funded think tank, the Center for a New American Security. Over the same five-year period CNAS got $8,956,000 from the DoD, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. This think tank also helps develop US security policy, including running wargames on potential conflicts in the Far East.
Think tanks claim the work they do is independent of their funding – but is that really true? If Boeing gives millions to an organization that influences policy on national security, is that policy going to involve the purchase of Boeing weapon systems? The same applies to government funding; are RAND and its fellows taking money from government departments, then recommending policies that boost those departments’ budgets and influence?
The truth is that, right now, there’s no way to tell; the University of Pennsylvania team had to do a lot of investigating to penetrate the often opaque funding of these think tanks. The question remains: How much of our vital security policy is being driven by who paid for research, instead of what America actually needs to keep it safe?
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