Inside Story

Thriving in a post-truth era

Peter Horner, editor
pete.horner@informs.org

Is there a place for fact-based, data-driven decision-making in today’s post-truth era, especially in the government sector where every decision seems to be subject to criticism from polarized politics and bias? According to Gen. Michael Hayden and other speakers at the recent INFORMS Government & Analytics Summit held in Washington, D.C., the answer is a resounding “yes.” Hayden said both the need and opportunities for operations research and advanced analytics in government have never been greater than they are today.

Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency (1999-2005) under presidents Clinton and George W. Bush and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (2006-2009) under presidents Bush and Obama, encouraged summit attendees, many of whom are government analysts, to continue their work and focus on the data and the facts despite the political noise. For more on the summit, which also featured a keynote from former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, as well as a trio of panel discussions on national security, healthcare and transportation, see OR/MS Today Assistant Editor Kara Tucker’s report on page 14. For a video of the summit, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2QCl2qASNo.

Speaking of the nexus of government, politics and data-driven decision-making, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) won the 2018 Franz Edelman Award for Achievement in Advanced Analytics, Operations Research and Management Science thanks to its extensive use of O.R. The FCC was facing a huge, complex, critical problem: Given a finite capacity of spectrum (the range of radio frequencies used for communications in a particular service area), how do you accommodate the exploding demand for wireless communications while respecting the legal rights of local television stations across North America that control much of the spectrum through paid leases?

The solution was a unique, two-side auction that not only raised $20 billion, it also satisfied thousands of stakeholders while providing sufficient wireless spectrum for the foreseeable future.

Minutes after the Edelman Award announcement at this year’s INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research, I interviewed Jean Kiddoo, chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force at the Federal Communications Commission, who led the award-winning presentation. A lawyer by trade who spent more than three decades in private practice representing telecommunications, media and technology companies before federal agencies, courts, state regulatory commissions and local authorities nationwide, Kiddoo said she had “no idea what operations research could achieve.” She does now.

“With the complexity of interference calculations, the channel assignments, the relocation of all the stations – without operations research you could never solve all the problems we faced,” Kiddoo said. For more on how and why the FCC won the 2018 Edelman Award, see page 26.

Despite its countless successes, the O.R. profession continues to face persistent issues that need to be addressed. For example, longtime, active INFORMS member Doug Samuelson analyzes the “threat of charlatan” data scientists and how best to respond (page 18), while equally longtime, active member Polly Mitchell-Guthrie makes the case for more O.R. (operations research) in the OR (operating room) and throughout hospitals in a healthcare industry that has historically lagged behind other industries in embracing advanced analytics (page 22).

Clearly, challenges for operations research are out there … and so are opportunities. It will be interesting to see how the profession responds.

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