....IRONICALLY, THE school's distinctive approach to government had its flowering in the Kennedy Administration, specifically in that bundle of techniques, sometimes called ''cost-benefit analysis'' or ''systems analysis,'' developed by the Rand Corporation, then elaborated by the ''whiz kids'' in the Defense Department under Robert S. McNamara. If statistics, econometrics and microeconomics failed to carry the day in Vietnam, they were the bedrock of the ''program planning and budgeting'' process used to chart the major initiatives of the Great Society, such as the poverty program and subsidized housing.
The policy analysts who designed such programs see political markets much as economists see economic markets. For example, if a Pentagon analyst was studying whether women ought to serve in combat, he would devise economic models that would tell him whether the benefit would be greater than using them in noncombat roles, and whether it would be more cost-effective than having men in those roles.
Such analytical tools proved particularly seductive to the young academics who joined the new Kennedy School. The ''founding fathers'' who helped transform the old Graduate School of Public Administration into the Kennedy School -Thomas C. Schelling, economist; Richard E. Neustadt, political scientist; Frederick Mosteller, statistician; Howard Raiffa, decision theorist -were distinguished scholars with no reason to fear a loss of status from casting their lot with the new venture. But the ''founding babies'' - such as Graham Allison, political scientist, and Richard J. Zeckhauser, economist - were taking a greater risk. Their reputations - indeed their expectations of academic tenure -depended on the sanction of more traditional academicians on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
.... The doctrine's very rigor made it vulnerable to critics who charged that it had drained all the human juices from the most human of all enterprises - politics. In a widely-quoted 1983 article for The Washington Monthly, Jonathan Alter inveighed against this effort to ''quantify the unquantifiable.''
But such ''quant-bashing'' had already been overtaken by events. By the early 1980's, a faction long headed by Dick Neustadt and now spearheaded by Mark Moore, a feisty young professor of criminal-justice policy, had succeeded - after intense internal warfare - in getting a healthy dose of ''management'' added to the policy-analysis curriculum.
In taking up the problem of combat roles for women, the manager would put aside the equations and ask how men and women would work together in a unit, who the commanders would be, how you go about building support for such a policy.
''Politics, we believed, was central to the manager's job,'' Mark Moore explains. ''All of a sudden, we were talking about coalitions, consensus-building, listening to your constituency, learning from them.''