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Debra Knopman is a principal researcher at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. She served as vice president and director of RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment, later called Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment from 2004 to 2014. She also serves as a member of the board of directors of the Henry Luce Foundation.
Knopman's expertise is in hydrology, environmental and natural resources policy, systems analysis and operations research, and public administration. Her project work spans a range of topics including adaptation of urban regions to a changing climate, long-term water management, resilience of energy systems, policy options for disposition of nuclear waste, governance and funding for U.S. Gulf Coast recovery, and the design of a National Research Fund for Qatar.
She served for six years (1997–2003) as a member of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board and chaired the board's Site Characterization Panel. She was the director of the Progressive Policy Institute's Center for Innovation and the Environment from 1995 to 2000. From 1993 to 1995, Knopman was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior. She had previously been a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and later chief of the Branch of Systems Analysis in the USGS's Water Resources Division. From 1979 to 1983, she served first as legislative assistant for energy and environmental issues to Senator Daniel P. Moynihan and then as professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Knopman earned her BA from Wellesley College, MSCE from M.I.T., and Ph.D. in geography and environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University.