As an industrial engineer who wants to work in the public sector, I feel this course is a surprisingly great fit for my interests. During this last summer, I worked on several process improvement projects as an intern for the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Administration, and I’m hoping to take on similar responsibilities when I graduate in May. As a result, I’ve been taking a fairly unique mix of ISyE Operations Research courses and Public Affairs electives like Public Management and Performance Management to better prepare myself for such a role.
I feel courses like this one are particularly relevant because what I noticed while working for the State is there are many decisions being made that are likely far from optimal. Even in my short time as an intern, I distinctly remember hearing about two examples where the use of OR would’ve been extremely helpful. The first had to do with the State’s interdepartmental mail routes. Currently, there are five trucks that pick up and drop off mail at each state agency in Madison each day. While I’m not sure how these routes were decided upon, I doubt an optimization model was used. Similarly, it seems equally unlikely that the State uses a mathematical model to decide where each agency or program should be located when one of their building leases ends. Although I immediately recognized these as OR problems and started thinking about I would solve them, it’s possible many state employees have never been introduced to the topic before and therefore wouldn’t even know that using a mathematical model is possible.
This realization made me wonder what other problems exist for the State that could easily be solved using OR techniques. While there are some obvious examples like scheduling and transportation that come to mind, one of the things I’m hoping to get out of this course is a better understanding of the different public sector models that exist and the issues surrounding their implementation. As Green and Kolesar (2004) note, “implementation of published models occurs less frequently than one might hope”, and I think that’s unfortunate. From finding acceptable school bus routes to making waste disposal more efficient (Larson, 2002), it seems like more widespread use of OR models could do a lot of good in the world. Especially in places that don’t have the resources to fund a team of operations researchers for years at a time, I’d be willing to bet there are a lot of problems that could be solved at a relatively low cost. To capture these benefits, however, someone needs to recognize when operations research tools are appropriate, create a valid model, and implement the findings. I expect this course will provide me with more experience in all three of these areas, and I look forward to the topics we’ll cover this semester.