The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, also known as the Baker Institute, is an American think tank on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. Founded in 1993, it functions as a nonpartisan center for public policy research. According to the 2015 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), the institute is No. 18 (of 60) in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States" and No. 4 (of 45) of the "Best University Affiliated Thanks". Its Center for Energy Studies is ranked No. 2 (of 55) among the world’s energy- and resource-policy think tanks, according to the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program’s 2015 Index Report. It is named for James A. Baker, III, former United States secretary of state and secretary of the Treasury. The institute's director Edward P. Djerejian is the former United States ambassador to Israel and Syria and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. The institute's board of advisors include William Barnett (Chair), Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Rice University's President David Leebron.
The institute employs scholars and researchers from a variety of backgrounds. Its current research includes centers for different areas: The Center for the Middle East, The McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, The Mexico Center, and The Center for Energy Studies. Other programs include China Studies, Drug Policy, Health Policy Forum, International Economics, Latin America Initiative, Politics and Elections, Religion and Public Policy, Space Policy, Science and Technology, and Tax and Expenditure Policy. The institute is a sponsoring organization for the Iraq Study Group. It is supported mainly by donor contributions.
The Baker Institute was founded in 1993. James Baker wished for the institute to bring together “statesmen, scholars, and students” and to be “a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action.” In 1994, a ceremony to honor the groundbreaking for the new building brought together four U.S. presidents (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush).
The idea for a public policy institute on campus came from Richard Stoll, director for the Center for the Study of Institutions and Values. In 1994, Ambassador Djerejian was selected as the institute's founding director.
The Baker Institute Center for the Middle East has been involved in conflict resolution projects. The focus of the Center includes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Levant, and Women and Human Rights in the Middle East. Research has focused on the civil war in Syria, security in Afghanistan, U.S. relations in the region, energy as it relates to the Middle East, and analysis of the Iran nuclear deal. The program brings together well-known speakers and researchers to offer their insights into the complex challenges facing the Middle East.
Staff in the Center for the Middle East include Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian and Yair Hirschfeld.
The Transnational China Project studies contemporary China and the changes that the nation is undergoing. The Transnational China project is also working on transcribing public service announcements from various cities in China. The transcripts are available at the Center for Digital Scholarship at Fondren Library at Rice University.
The Drug Policy Program focuses on implications of the War on Drugs and “pursues research and open debate on local and national drug policies based on common sense, driven by human rights interests, and focused on reducing the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with drug use.”
The Health Policy Forum is tracking implementation of the Affordable Care Act through published research, media and government resources. The latest HPF peer-reviewed publications are studies on the cost-drivers of complex cancer surgery. Other projects include an analysis of regional variations of cancer treatment in Texas, a study of the effect of smoking bans on hospitalization rates, and a study of whether shared savings programs for physicians can reduce overall patient health care expenditures.
Staff include Peter Hotez and John Mendelsohn.
The International Economics Program focuses particularly on emerging markets, but also on debt, China’s economic growth, and governing the global economy. Policy recommendations are produced on “how global economic trends are developing, and what policies can optimally address the challenges that arise.”
The Latin America Initiative has two main projects, the Americas Project and the Vecinos Lecture Series. The initiative focuses on the challenges and opportunities that face the region and “brings together leading stakeholders from government, the private sector, academia and civil society to exchange their views on pressing issues confronting the region.”
The McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation aims to provide policymakers, scholars and the general public with comprehensive analyses of the issues that affect entrepreneurship and innovation at three levels: federal and state policy, municipal ecosystems, and academic entrepreneurship and innovation. The center was founded with a gift of $8m from Robert McNair and his wife Janice, through the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation.
The Mexico Center works to create policy research on issues that affect the Mexico and the United States. The center's research agenda currently focuses on eight major issues: trade, energy, telecommunications, health care, infrastructure, education, human mobility and the administration of justice/security.
The Politics and Elections program "primarily advances knowledge and understanding of political institutions and elections in the United States and Latin America. Substantive areas include political campaigns, electoral systems, political change, party activism, regime transitions and voting behavior."
Staff include Douglas Brinkley, Robert M. Stein, and Sarah Whiting.
The Religion Policy Program studies the effects of religion on politics in America and around the world on several topics, including voting patterns, the role of faith-based organizations, conflict resolution and religious fundamentalism in the Middle East.
The International Space Medicine Summit brings together “leading physicians, space biomedical scientists, engineers, astronauts and cosmonauts from the space-faring nations for high-level discussions about the research needed to prevent and/or mitigate the medical and biomedical challenges spacefarers experience in long-duration spaceflight.”
Staff include George W. S. Abbey and Neal F. Lane.
The Science and Technology Program focuses on issues that include “space, health, medicine, energy and the environment, national and domestic security, science education, and the public’s understanding and trust of science.”
Notable staff include Robert Bazell, Neal F. Lane, Kristin R.W. Matthews, and Robert Curl.
The Tax and Expenditure Policy program focuses on tax reform and public finance. Projects focus on “earnings volatility, income mobility and inequality, alternative funding options for public schools, state and local investment tax incentive, state sales taxation of services, the optimal taxation of electronic commerce, the effects of the property tax, the effects of adopting education vouchers, and public employee pension liabilities.”
Students secure their internships independently of the institute, but get support from experts and staff members. The mission of the program is to "offer Rice University undergraduate students hands-on experience in the world of public policy research and analysis in our nation's capital." The program was founded in 2004 and since its inception, the program has funded 87 students to work in Washington, D.C. for the summer.