Doing more with less: optimization in the public sector

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Nicholas NahasOptimization in the public sector

Interview with Nicholas Nahas, consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and Board Member of WINFORMS, the Washington Branch of INFORMS.

ORTEC went to Washington with a lot of questions and could think of no better person than Nicholas Nahas to answer them. Nicholas has spent his career as an engineer at Raytheon and an OR consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the world’s foremost consulting firms with an award-winning Operations Research team.   

We met at a Starbucks not far from the White House in the heart of Washington.

ORTEC: What challenges does the world face in today’s business environment, and how can OR play a role in addressing these challenges? 

Nicholas:  It’s not only companies who operate in a challenging environment. Governments and public institutions do, too. The public wants the government to do more and spend less during a period of US economic recovery. However, we need to invest in infrastructure. That means that the government must find new ways to finance infrastructure projects. For example, road maintenance can be paid for by usage fees. With OR you can determine the optimal price. At state level, this can be very beneficial. If you want to have a sustainable infrastructure, you have to find new ways to finance it. OR can play a leading role in finding these ways.

Air traffic control, is another, public transportation area that can benefit significantly from the use of OR. Until recently, the US relied mainly on technology originating from WWII to manage air traffic control. OR techniques have now been used to manage the air traffic flow, eliminating holding patterns and optimizing air traffic in such a way as to allow for continuous descent approach, minimizing noise pollution and decreasing fuel consumption.

ORTEC: Can you give other examples of what can be achieved with OR?

Nicholas: With OR you can do things better and more efficiently with less means. For example, the Department of Homeland Security, a large department that plays a vital role in US security, has applied OR in a number of ways in a budget constrained environment to enhance its missions.  For example, the Coast Guard uses OR to maximize its fleet’s patrol days, enforcement agencies use it to prioritize serious criminal offenders, and immigrations offices use it to identify fraud.  OR is also used for scheduling and workforce planning at government agencies. The Department of Defense uses it to determine the total costs of material during their lifecycle, and for portfolio management. All in all there is a lot of usage for OR. Not only in the business environment; but also, as you can see, in public services.

ORTEC: Why is using OR important?

Nicholas:  Operations Research is making our country, and probably yours, a safer place.  From being applied in the study of transportation technologies to improve safety to its applications in homeland security and the department of defense, OR has proved itself to be a powerful tool in the public sector.

My own company, Booz Allen Hamilton, won INFORMS’ 2012 Innovation in Analytics Award for “Enhancing Immigration Enforcement with Decision Analytics”. We applied OR techniques to align resources to remove criminal offenders; developed models that were used to forecast the number of criminal illegal aliens; optimized a technology deployment

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