The Niskanen Center seeks a Director to help launch and direct its new state capacity initiative. The initiative is meant to bring attention to the problems of implementation and the administrative burden that limit policy goals and government’s effectiveness


Department: State Capacity Initiative (new)

Location: Washington, D.C.

Schedule:  Flexible hybrid, minimum 2-3 days in-office per week

Job Status: Full-Time

Experience: At least 8-10 years, with a minimum of 3 years of senior leadership experience

Salary:  $150,000- $200,000 plus a generous benefits package

About the Niskanen Center

Named “the most interesting think tank in American politics” by Time magazine in March 2023, the Niskanen Center is a public policy think tank and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening liberal democratic governance and promoting widespread prosperity and opportunity. Our vision of market liberalism is rooted in an effective public sector and a competitive private sector and is committed to upholding the principles of a pluralistic and open society that encourages engagement, cooperation, discussion, and learning.  

Realizing our mission requires building on the best of progressive and conservative thought. We unite scholars and policy analysts from across the political spectrum to address pressing policy issues, from climate change to child poverty. We address gaps in policy research and development, translate the best policy ideas across political divides, promote those ideas to policymakers, and build coalitions that cut across partisan boundaries to enact positive change.

Position Overview

The Niskanen Center seeks a Director to help launch and direct its new state capacity initiative. The initiative is meant to bring attention to the problems of implementation and the administrative burden that limit policy goals and government’s effectiveness. The state capacity initiative is meant to shift the debate towards bold, transformative change of bureaucratic culture. It will identify changes in behavior, processes, and procedures across federal agencies to reduce complexity and administrative burden, and it will identify which legislative changes can provide the largest improvement in the government’s ability to implement policies. 

The initiative’s early focus will be on four domains: 1) the ability of government to hire the people it needs; 2) reforms to the administration of the Paper Reduction Act that inhibits the ability of government agencies to conduct user research; 3) reducing the ways government oversight leads to harmful risk aversion in government; and 4) addressing restrictions on government funding that limit the effectiveness of government projects. Much of the motivation for the initiative stems from Jennifer Pahlka’s recent book, Recoding America: Why Government is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better. The Director will work closely with Pahlka, Niskanen’s newSenior Fellow, and State Capacity Strategist. 

The initiative is part of Niskanen’s larger strategy aimed at creating a new ideological synthesis for policy change that attracts people from the right who recognize the need for and effective government for the free market to flourish and people from the left who recognize that government procedure and burden is often an impediment to public and private enterprise. Niskanen’s strategy integrates theory, policy, and practice. “Theory” is where it formulates and articulates its vision of society, markets, and government. This lays a foundation for Niskanen’s “policy,” which are the ideas for specific government actions to advance prosperity, opportunity, and human flourishing. Niskanen’s “practice” constitutes its efforts to enact the policies through coalition building and influencing the three branches of government.

Applicants should be entrepreneurial and have experience managing teams and collaborating with people with diverse expertise. Since this is a new initiative for Niskanen that cuts across its policy work, the Director will report to the President for at least the launch phase of the first year. 


  • Build capacity for the initiative, including hiring and directing at least one dedicated staff member.
  • Help shape the long-term strategy for the initiative.
  • Integrate the initiative’s work with the policy work of the Niskanen Center and the work of our senior fellow affiliates working on state capacity.
  • Collaborate with Niskanen’s communications team to amplify the initiative’s work and target the work at strategically chosen audiences.
  • Collaborate with Niskanen’s government affairs team to determine the best ways to build political coalitions and to achieve the administrative or legislative changes needed to improve government implementation.
  • Build relationships with key staff in administrative agencies to help understand the incentives, behaviors, and practices that hinder effective policy implementation and explore possible levers for change.
  • Build and sustain partnerships and coalitions to help affect the desired changes to government implementation.
  • Assist with the fundraising for the initiative.

Minimum Qualifications

  • At least a Bachelor’s degree;
  • An understanding and commitment to the Niskanen Center’s vision and mission;
  • At least 8-10 years of relevant experience, including at least 3 years of senior level leadership experience;
  • An understanding of the issues surrounding state capacity and government implementation;
  • A demonstrated record of strategic leadership, management, and collaboration across diverse expertise;
  • A high degree of entrepreneurial spirit, strategic thinking, managing across expertise, and personal drive; and
  • Human centered design and user research experience are a plus.

Benefits and Diversity Commitment 

The Niskanen Center offers a comprehensive employee benefits package, including health, dental, and vision insurance, federal holidays off, unlimited paid leave, a 403(b) plan, and commuter benefits for D.C. area employees.

The Niskanen Center is committed to creating a diverse environment and is proud to be an equal opportunity employer. In recruiting for our team, we welcome the unique contributions that you can bring in terms of education, opinions, culture, ethnicity, race, sex, gender identity and expression, nation of origin, age, veteran status, color, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and beliefs, and we strongly encourage you to apply.

How to Apply

We only review applications after the deadline: applications must be submitted by 11:59 pm ET on November 5, 2023. Please include a cover letter and resume combined into one pdf. Be prepared to present additional materials during the interview process.

Use the link below to apply. No phone calls, please.