Andrew W. Marshall, former director of the Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment. (Department of Defense)
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

Last fall, I hosted a Fletcher School conference on the evolution of U.S. foreign policy think tanks, which led to a short write-up here at Spoiler Alerts.

That, in turn, has led to a longer forthcoming article in International Journal entitled “American think tanks in the twenty-first century,” which is now available online. The abstract:

Think tanks have been a part of the United States’ foreign policy establishment for more than a century. They have played a significant role at key junctures in US foreign policy. Two inflection points, however, have dramatically altered the think tank landscape in the last 15 years. The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks caused these organizations to dramatically expand their staff and overhead, as the demand for their services increased. The 2008 financial crisis subsequently left many of these same think tanks financially overextended. This circumstance forced these organizations to seek out more unconventional funding arrangements, imposing new constraints at the exact moment that their competitive environment intensified. In the twenty-first century, US foreign policy think tanks will maintain their relevancy by moving beyond what made them relevant in the last century.

You can read the whole thing as long as that link works. Or, for a more a news story that perfectly encapsulates many of the dynamics I talk about in the article, read this DefenseOne story by Marcus Weisgerber on the shake-up at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). The think tank is currently experiencing some personnel turnover, as its longtime president Andrew Krepinevich is stepping down. CSBA’s leading budget analyst, Todd Harrison, is also moving on to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Weisgerber gets at the change in CSBA’s fiscal environment behind some of this churn:

[T]he non-profit organization has been taking in less money from contributions and government grants, and instead propping up its bottom line with more corporate consulting work, according to CSBA’s latest financial disclosures. The total value of contributions and grants fell from $4.6 million in 2011 to $2.6 million in 2013, that latest year for which figures are available. Meanwhile, its corporate consulting revenue grew from $257,294 in 2011 to nearly $2.2 million in 2013. Much of that work is for a major defense firm, according to people with knowledge of the contracts who declined to speak publicly….

The think tank, which has about 15 employees, had total revenue of just under $5.5 million in 2013.

Since the principal source of government grants came from the Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment under Andrew Marshall, and Marshall has since stepped down, CSBA is facing a new fiscal reality. This new reality is one that a lot of other U.S. think tanks are also confronting going forward. So think of the goings-on at CSBA as the canary in the coal mine for other, larger foreign policy/national security think tanks.