Public Policy Theses and Dissertations

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    Essays on Natural Disasters and Fiscal Resilience
    (2023) Prabowo, Aichiro Suryo; Joyce, Philip G.; Public Policy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This dissertation attempts to bridge two fields within public policy, sustainability and public budgeting and finance. Natural disasters have become more frequent, intense, and costly over the last few decades, and this study contributes to the discourse through a public finance lens. I develop three separate but interrelated essays, which seek to understand how environmental shocks like natural disasters affect government budgets, and what actions governments should take to maintain fiscal resilience and sustainability. The first chapter evaluates the impact of flooding events on state government fiscal conditions. I construct a dataset with panel data from 50 U.S. states between 1997 to 2020 and employ a two-way fixed-effects model. The results show that increased severity of flooding leads to higher intergovernmental revenue two years after the disaster, but states do not necessarily pass down more funds to localities. There is also evidence that an increased flooding severity coincides with increased state tax revenue during and one year after the disaster. While federal assistance can help states stabilize during and after an emergency, I argue that it may also create problematic incentives. Specifically, federal transfers may discourage states from allocating sufficient funds for ex-ante flood mitigation. The second chapter examines whether and how government attention to hurricanes developed over time. I analyze budget documents from 2005 to 2020 across seven hurricane-prone states in the U.S.: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas. While prior studies focus on budget data, my study is the first to exploit the narrative portions of the budget documents using textual analysis. Computational text analysis is used to identify and quantify government attention toward different policy areas, including disaster management in connection with hurricanes. Cases from Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida show that an increased incidence of major hurricanes coincides with higher attention to hurricanes in the budget documents. There is also evidence that the attention to hurricanes is associated more with reactive rather than proactive measures, calling into question the general preparedness of most state governments for future disasters. The third chapter surveys the government’s disclosure of risks associated with natural disasters. It is intended as an exploratory analysis using audited financial reports from 50 U.S. states between 2002 and 2016. Audited financial reports are more technical and less political than the budget documents examined in my second chapter. I combine qualitative analysis with computational text analysis to understand the narrative portions of the source document. The results show that state governments do not widely disclose information regarding disaster risk despite the increasing threat of natural disasters. States that disclosed disaster risk in the past tend to disclose the same information in the future and past years, suggesting significant inertia in financial reporting. Finally, based on selected cases in hurricane-prone states, the study finds proactive as well as reactive risk disclosure, suggesting the need for governmental accounting standards to incorporate mechanisms that specify how disaster risk should be recognized, measured, and presented in the financial reports.
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    (2023) Singh, Simran; Hultman, Nathan; Public Policy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    First-generation biofuels production increased exponentially in the last fifteen years. However, research on the socioeconomic aspects of first-generation biofuels production in countries to which it has expanded to has been limited. According to the literature, food security due to land use tradeoffs between fuel and food crops and unclear inclusion of producers in sustainability governance for fuel crops are central concerns when considering the impact of first-generation biofuel production. Thailand is a key case to study sustainability dynamics of oil palm production due to its focus on biodiesel as a source of renewable energy and similarity to other countries to which oil palm and biodiesel production is expanding. The first part of this dissertation asks if palm oil has affected rice production in Thailand. Using an original province-level data on oil palm and rice production spanning thirty-three years for each Thai province in a multi-level VAR model, the first essay describes contemporaneous, temporal and between-province linkages between oil palm and rice at the country level. Results indicate complex linkages between oil palm and rice, including that oil palm decisions may be indirectly linked to rice plantation decisions from a temporal perspective within a province. The second part of this dissertation examines whether smallholder values have been conscientiously included in fuel-crop sustainability decisions within predominant oil-palm sustainability governance. The literature has recognized that roundtables are the key form of fuel crop governance, and claim legitimacy based on the inclusion of producer stakeholders (farmers) in forming a vision of sustainability. However, evidence suggests that independent smallholders, a particularly vulnerable subset of producers, may not be included despite high-level policies for their inclusion in bodies such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO hereafter). After delineating an original framework for assessing conscientious inclusion based on an original synthesis of the literature on equity, participation, agency and perception, the second part of this research uses 94 field interviews to capture independent smallholder and elite perceptions of independent smallholder inclusion in the RSPO in Thailand. Results presented as themes according to the framework indicate both smallholders and elites perceive that independent smallholders have limited inclusion in envisioning sustainability in the RSPO across various elements of inclusion, compromising the legitimacy of the RSPO sustainability certification.
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    Energy equity & justice implications of climate change mitigation pathways
    (2023) Vallimyalil, Mel George A; Patwardhan, Anand; Hultman, Nathan E; Public Policy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Analyzing distributional effects on vulnerable sections is important for enhancing climate mitigation ambition by supporting social objectives. Discounting the impacts on the most vulnerable, prior research underestimates the skew in investments required to meet sustainable development goals. Its focus on representative households and cost optimal mitigation pathway archetypes also amplifies false narratives around societal and developmental tradeoffs of mitigation policies. This study demonstrates that bespoke pathway design can support simultaneous attainment of multiple national energy priorities. Using a consistent framework and accounting for interactions between different sectors, it evaluates a set of diverse mitigation pathways to similar climate outcomes. It examines short & long-term distributional impacts on national energy goals to identify pathways which offer synergies across multiple objectives and regions.Next, the impacts are downscaled to the household income deciles in India & the US using household survey data & future income distribution projections, to scrutinize the residential energy burden changes under different mitigation policies. The results show regressive impacts on access and affordability for most mitigation pathways, except those propelled by demand side mitigation strategies and non-CO2 emission reductions. Thereafter, it expands the conceptualization of energy poverty beyond unitary dimensions, binary classifications and income relationships. Applying an alternative framework to identify vulnerable households experiencing energy poverty in India, this study showcases the disparities across dimensions. It then envisions an intersectionality context and proffers empirical evidence of the increased likelihood of households at the overlap of multiple deprivations being entrapped in more severe forms of energy poverty and the concomitant effects on gender inequity. A key finding of this study is that mitigation pathway choice and design matters for just energy transition goals and tailored pathways addressing underlying local and global inequities provide latitude for synergies and progressive impacts. It also establishes that technology solutions alone are unable to redress pre-existing inequities and should be complemented with other support policies for the vulnerable. This study contributes to the scholarship on the need for improved representation of heterogeneity in energy-climate models and offers policy relevance – showing the importance of underlying systemic changes to achieve social & climate goals together.
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    Assessing The Global War On Terror: Measuring The Impact Of US Foreign Terrorist Organization Designation On Salafi Jihadist Group Behavior
    (2023) Sturm, Amy Buenning; Gallagher, Nancy; Public Policy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    This study evaluates the impact of foreign terrorist organization (FTO) designation, a core US counterterrorism tool that unlocks legal, financial, and administrative penalties for terrorist groups, against Salafi jihadist terrorist organizations. Using publicly available data from 2001 to 2018, this research takes a quantitative and qualitative mixed methods approach to evaluate if FTO designation of Salafi jihadist terrorist groups alters their behavior by reducing terrorist membership or changing their attack patterns and lethality. The quantitative portion examines the impact of designation across three primary dependent variable behavior categories: group and membership size; attacks and lethality; and targeting. The qualitative portion looks at the range of possible best to worst case behavior outcomes for groups after designation and seeks to determine which, if any, designation-associated activities drove a reduction in violence. In this study FTO designation did not advance US policy objectives of reducing terrorist group and membership size, decreasing the number and lethality of attacks, or hardening targets against Salafi jihadist attack. Post-designation Salafi jihadist areas of operations experienced overall growth in the number of groups and membership. FTO designation reverses some pre-designation trends in rising attack frequency and lethality, but the results are not statistically significant. Moreover, designation does not significantly impact group targets or attack type. The qualitative case studies use US government reported data on designation-associated activities alongside captured media to explain variance in group outcomes post-designation. The case studies reveal that a terrorist group’s international versus national presence prior to designation better explains variation in outcomes than designation-associated activities. Groups able to flex across national boundaries were seemingly more resilient to CT pressure. The most international group was the most unaffected by designation, while the most nationally focused group was the most impacted. While FTO designation was not causally linked to the desired Salafi jihadist behavioral outcomes, the directional shift in some groups attack frequency and lethality shortly following designation suggest designation’s impact warrants further study, including gathering improved official data and yearly metrics on designation-associated effects. As the US reduces its CT footprint, FTO designation and associated metrics can help guide future operations to target Salafi jihadist groups more efficiently, informing future US government CT efforts.
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    (2022) Miller, Catherine J.; Reuter, Peter H; Kleykamp, Meredith A; Public Policy; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    In 2013, the Ground Combat Exclusion Policy (GCEP) for the United States military was eliminated, and in December 2015 Secretary of Defense Ash Carter opened all ground combat military specialties and positions to women without exceptions. Using primary survey data that I collected in 2021 from the 33 active-duty Army brigade combat teams (BCTs), this dissertation explores the effects of exposure to serving with women on male opinions about gender integration in the combat arms, perceptions of women’s capabilities (physical fitness and mental toughness), and predicted effects of gender integration on unit cohesion and unit performance in the formerly all-male Infantry and Armor branches of the Army. This mixed methods study explores the following question: To what extent does exposure to serving with female soldiers and officers in combat units help explain differences in male support for gender integration, and perceptions about its effects? Since the policy change is fairly new, a natural experiment in military assignments provided an opportunity to learn about how exposure impacts male soldier opinions in formerly all-male units. Women have been assigned in clusters to some Army Infantry and Armor units but not others due to their small numbers. At the time of the survey, there was still significant variation in exposure to serving with women in Infantry and Armor units, so exposure is examined as a treatment variable to determine if male opinions differ by unit level of exposure. The women in these newly integrated units, as well as the men and women in the associated combat support units that have been gender integrated for decades, are also included in the analysis for comparison. The findings demonstrate that the presence of women within a formerly all-male Infantry or Armor platoon or squad, and exposure to a female leader, predict that a male respondent is significantly more likely to support gender integration in the combat arms, perceive that female soldiers in their units are physically fit and mentally tough enough to be effective in their military jobs, and is less likely to worry about gender integration effects on unit cohesion and performance.