What Does a Policy Analyst Do?

Two policy analysts examine a document.

A single policy can have a massive impact on an entire organization or state, or even the country. For example, the 911 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon spurred a policy that permanently changed the way Americans travel: the Aviation and Transportation Security Act requires that all checked baggage be X-rayed, all passengers are screened and all airplane doors are reinforced to prevent intruders from entering.

Not all policies are that far-reaching or issued with such urgency. However, every policy, regardless of scope, must go through a process to assess its impact and efficacy. Policy analysts play a significant role in this process.

What does a policy analyst do? Using a specialized skill set, this detailed-oriented professional evaluates and reviews policies and legislation that can impact populations at the local, state or federal level. An advanced education can help prepare aspiring analysts for this important role.

Policy Analyst Job Description

Although policy analysts are most closely associated with government work, they can be found in various other environments such as nonprofit organizations, private consulting firms and policy institutes. The organization they work for dictates the nature of the policies they oversee and review. However, the policy analyst job description and the day-to-day responsibilities of the role generally overlap, regardless of setting. During a typical workday, a policy analyst may be responsible for the following:

  • Evaluating existing policies to identify areas for improvement
  • Ensuring that proposed policies are legally sound and meet goals and objectives
  • Developing methods of gathering data on topics affecting the public
  • Researching case law and legal precedent to determine their impact on proposed legislation
  • Researching and analyzing specific policy issues, and making recommendations based on reliable data and precedents
  • Drafting regulations or legislation based on the results of analytical research regarding societal impact
  • Meeting with stakeholders to address potential concerns about proposed legislation
  • Gauging and analyzing the potential social and economic impact of proposed legislation
  • Presenting relevant findings to senior leadership
  • Recommending changes to proposed or existing legislation or policies

A policy analyst strives to ensure that policy or proposed legislation is supported by legal precedent, meets the objectives of stakeholders, and is supported by data and analysis. After a policy goes into effect, it has the potential to impact millions of lives, so the policy must be thoroughly evaluated.

To be successful in the role, policy analysts should be great organizers; excellent problem-solvers and critical thinkers; skilled communicators; and highly adept researchers, especially in understanding how law and policy interact.

How to Become a Policy Analyst

While individuals can take various educational and professional paths to become a policy analyst, certain key steps are essential to qualify for the role:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. Aspiring policy analysts can choose from a wide array of undergraduate degrees. Some of the most common are philosophy, psychology, business administration, education, political science, economics, social policy analysis, public policy, environmental policy and management. The majority of employers require a master’s degree as well.
  2. Gain work experience. After earning an undergraduate degree, candidates may qualify for either an internship or entry-level job that relates to policy analysis. Some popular roles include public relations coordinator, market research analyst, administrative analyst, research interviewer, program analyst, law clerk and research assistant. The job or internship should provide plenty of opportunities to build research experience.
  3. Earn a master’s degree. Most employers look for candidates with a master’s degree in an applicable field. Some of the most common graduate degree paths include a Master of Public Affairs, Master of Public Policy, Master of Public Administration, and Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
  4. Interview for policy analyst roles. With the right education and experience, graduates with a master’s degree should be able to qualify for entry-level policy analyst roles. While interviewing with different companies and organizations, candidates should research the policies that are relevant to their field of interest.

The Role of a Policy Analyst in National Security Policy

Although the duties of policy analysts are fairly consistent in every work environment, analysts who work in national security policy have a somewhat higher-profile position. Their work with the U.S. government and its various agencies often has wide-reaching national impact.

Given this, the scope of what a policy analyst does in the context of national security may differ from other analyst roles. National security policy analysts develop policy and legislation, of course, but they also may help craft well-defined strategies for matters relating to national security. For example, the Cybersecurity Strategy of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) details the national security threat, how risks are identified, how to reduce vulnerabilities and threats, and how to mitigate consequences.

Oftentimes, policy analysts working in the national security sector find that existing policies are outdated and/or require amendments. Updating and changing policies to suit the current landscape isn’t uncommon.

Analysts who aspire to enter the national security field should expect greater scrutiny during screening and onboarding. This typically means completing a full background check and other steps to obtain government clearance.

Begin Your Journey to Becoming a Policy Analyst

The work of policy analysts has a sizable impact, with the potential to influence countless lives and change the direction of an entire nation, particularly in the national security sector. DHS and emergency management organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency rely on policy analysts’ expertise to craft policies designed to protect the nation from all manner of threats.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of political scientists — a role that overlaps with policy analysts — is projected to grow by 6 percent from 2021 to 2031. Additionally, the BLS reports that political scientists earned a median annual wage of $122,510 in 2021, making it one of the higher-paying careers in the job market.

One of the best ways to start down the road to becoming a policy analyst is with an advanced education, such as the Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness offered through the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

During this graduate program, students will learn about cybersecurity law and policy, emergency management, private sector preparedness, and other key areas that can prepare them for various emergency management and homeland security careers. Take the first step toward making a difference on a national level at VCU.