Thomas A. Birkland

Welcome to my web site at NC State University. I am a professor in the department of public administration in the School of Public and international Affairs at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. I joined the faculty in 2007 after 12 years on the faculty in the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany. While there I served, from 2001-2005 as director of the Center for Policy Research. I spent 2006 on leave from the university at the National Science Foundation in suburban Washington, DC. I was the program director for the Infrastructure Management and Hazard Response Program  (now known as Humans. Disasters, and the Built Environment, HDBE, in the Engineering Directorate.

I am a native of Seattle, and lived there until I was nine, whereupon my family moved to Anchorage, Alaska. I graduated from Robert Service High School in Anchorage, then attended the University of Oregon, earning my B.A. (cum laude) in political science. Through good luck and excellent mentoring from Jim Klonoski at the University of Oregon, I was able to attend Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics, where I earned my M.A. in political science, focusing on public policy. I then worked for state government in New Jersey for five years, including a one-year stint in the office of Governor Thomas Kean--a fascinating experience for anyone interested in policy making, and a formative experience working for a governor who cared deeply about doing the best he possibly could for the people of his state. The other four years included two tours of duty at the New Jersey Department of Transportation, where I worked for and with some of the finest public managers I've ever known.

After five years of state employment, I decided that I needed to decide if I wanted to remain a public manager, or become an academic. Since I really enjoyed colleges and love being on campus, wherever that campus is, I applied to and was accepted to the University of Washington, where I spent five years under the mentorship of Dr. Peter May. My dissertation became my book, After Disaster. I am very grateful to my colleagues in public policy who honored this book with the Aaron Wildavsky Enduring Contribution Award in 2020.

My research interests have two broad and overlapping themes. I am interested in theories of the policy process generally, and the agenda-setting process in particular. To explore and illustrate these phenomena, much of my research has centered on the politics of natural hazards and industrial accidents. In particular, I ask What causes some events to get on the agenda, while others do not? and Do we learn anything from sudden "focusing events" to prevent disastrous events from recurring or from being as damaging as their precursors? Like many social scientists, I find that natural disasters and technological accidents serve as excellent ways to gain insight into social processes in general, and into the policy process specifically. 

I am also the Associate Dean for Research and Engagement in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences here at NC State. More information about my role and about my office can be found here

Thomas A. Birkland
Department of Public Administration
School of Public and International Affairs
NC State University
Campus Box 8102
Raleigh, NC 27695