The Public Policy Program originated in 1979 with the first majors being individually-designed. Authority to grant degrees was received from the University in 1981. James Rosse (Economics), Lincoln Moses (Statistics) and Nathan Rosenberg (Economics) founded the Public Policy Program in response to the growing importance and relevance of policymaking and the legislative process both locally and nationally.
Nathan Rosenberg served as Director of the program from 1979 to 1982, followed by Lincoln Moses (1982-85) and John Ferejohn (1985-86). In 1986, Roger Noll of the Department of Economics began his term as Director of the Public Policy Program. Terry Moe (1988), John Cogan (1993), and David Brady (1995-96) served as interim directors while Professor Noll was on leave. David Brady (GSB, Political Science, Hoover Institution) became the Director in 2002 with Geoffrey Rothwell (Economics) as Associate Director.
In 2005, Bruce Owen, the Gordon Cain Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), became the Program Director. Also during that year, Public Policy moved under SIEPR for administrative purposes, while maintaining its academic connection with the School of Humanities and Sciences. Gregory Rosston, also of SIEPR, was appointed as the Program's Deputy Director in 2006, and went on to become Co-Director. Dr. Rosston took over as Program Director in the autumn of 2014.
In 2010, the Program relocated to the newly constructed SIEPR Gunn Building, which was able to accomodate expanded student growth. It also allowed the Program to maintain its strong connection to economic policy analysis while being adminsitered by the School of Humanities and Sciences. SIEPR Gunn was home to Public Policy's administrative office for six years.
In the summer of 2016, the Program's administrative office relocated to the 1st floor of the Landau Economics Building and in the summer of 2019, the Public Policy Department moved to Encina Hall West.