The Brookings Institution defines itself as "a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions." Professing to be without a political agenda, it aims to "provide the highest quality research, policy recommendations, and analysis on the full range of public policy issues … for decision-makers in the U.S. and abroad on the full range of challenges facing an increasingly interdependent world."
The Brookings Institution is an outgrowth of the Institute for Government Research (IGR), which was founded in 1916 to analyze public policy issues at the national level. In 1922 and 1924, one of IGR's supporters, St. Louis businessman and philanthropist Robert Somers Brookings (1850-1932), established two sister organizations: the Institute of Economics and a graduate school (as part of Washington University) bearing his name. In 1927, the three entities merged to form the Brookings Institution. Its first Board included Mr. Brookings; Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter; Charles W. Eliot, former President of Harvard; Fredric Delano, uncle of future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Herbert Hoover; and Frank Goodnow, who would become the first Chairman of the IGR's Board of Trustees and President of Johns Hopkins University.
Mr. Brookings officially opposed FDR's expansion of the welfare state during the Great Depression, and then-Brookings Institution President Harold Moulton concluded that the National Recovery Administration had actually impeded recovery. The Institution assisted in the planning of World War II, providing the government with manpower estimates and price control data; it also offered suggestions on the most efficient way to carry out the rebuilding of Europe after the War.
The Brookings Institution's capacity to shape government policy increased dramatically in the 1950s, when it received substantial grants from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. President Robert Calkins reorganized the Institution into Economic Studies, Government Studies, and Foreign Policy Studies programs, and by the mid-1960s Brookings was conducting nearly 100 research projects per year for the government as well as for private industry, making it the preeminent source of research in the world.
Under the Nixon administration, Brookings' relationship with the White House deteriorated, largely because many of the Brookings staff were Democrats who identified with the policies of the Great Society, opposed the Vietnam War, and advocated America's accelerated or unilateral nuclear disarmament. Brookings became part of the Watergate investigation as a result of Nixon’s decision to authorize a break-in to the Institution’s headquarters in 1971, in connection with the Pentagon Papers leak; He also ordered the FBI to wiretap the telephone of Morton Halperin, a Brookings Fellow.
Brookings tipped back to the political right in the 1970s and 80s, as evidenced by the presence of longtime Republicans like Stephen Hess (one-time speechwriter for President Eisenhower) and Roger Semerad (former Assistant Secretary of Labor under Ronald Reagan) in key positions. Brookings' then-President, Bruce MacLaury, was Under-Secretary of the Treasury for President Nixon.
Brookings has in recent years shifted back to the political left, particularly in its foreign policy positions. Condemning President Bush's Iraq policy, in April 2004 Brookings hosted Senator Edward Kennedy in an event aimed at discrediting the Iraq War. As the 2004 Presidential election neared, the Institution's Fellows endorsed Democratic candidate John Kerry's call for a "more sensitively" fought war on terrorism. They have also called for the American government to permit Islamic radicals like Tariq Ramadan to enter the U.S. with work visas.
Brookings has been involved with a variety of internationalist and state-sponsored programs, including the Global Governance Initiative, which aspires to facilitate the establishment of a U.N.-dominated world government, based in part on economic and Third World considerations. Brookings Fellows have also called for additional global collaboration on trade and banking; the expansion of the Kyoto Protocol; and nationalized health insurance for children. Nine Brookings economists signed a petition opposing President Bush's tax cuts in 2003.
The Brookings Institution's President since 2002 has been Strobe Talbott, who served as President Clinton's Deputy Secretary of State. The Board of Trustees features Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of John Kerry; Zoe Baird, failed Clinton appointee for Attorney General; and Lawrence Summers, former Harvard President and U.S. Treasury Secretary.