Storied Jason science advisory group loses contract with Pentagon | Science

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Storied Jason science advisory group loses contract with Pentagon | Science

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has severed its 60-year ties to a group of academics known as Jason, putting in jeopardy the group’s ability to conduct studies for the government on a range of national security issues.

Jason, formed during the early years of the Cold War to provide the U.S. military with independent technical expertise, consists of some 50 scientists who spend part of their summer chewing over such knotty problems as maintaining the viability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile and the technical aspects of proposed weapons systems. Over the decades, other organizations have developed similar capabilities. But Jason has maintained its reputation for providing blunt and balanced advice to policymakers.

However, defense officials have apparently had a change of heart. On 28 March the MITRE Corporation, a nonprofit based in Mclean, Virginia, that manages the Jason contract, received a letter from DOD ordering it to close up shop by 30 April.

Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) broke the news this afternoon during a hearing he was chairing in which he questioned the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) about the agency’s 2020 budget request. It was a tense exchange.

“Are you aware that the [Jason] contract has been summarily terminated by the Pentagon?” Cooper asked NNSA’s Lisa Gordon-Hagerty. “It’s my understanding that the Pentagon is doing something with the contract,” Gordon-Hagerty replied.

“Is that a euphemism for termination?” Cooper persisted. Gordon sidestepped the question, noting that Jason was currently conducting some studies for NNSA and adding that, “if there are some issues with contract management, we need to make sure that somebody handles them.”

Cooper could not be reached for comment after the hearing. But his questioning elicited praise for the group from Gordon-Hagerty.

“I can’t speak to their long history,” she told Cooper. “But I can tell you that their technical expertise is sound… and that they are very knowledgeable about the issues associated with NNSA programs.”

Individual Jason members declined to comment on the status of the organization. And officially, it’s still business as usual.

“We are planning our annual spring meeting, which takes place later this month,” says its chair, Russell Hemley, a professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “We are finalizing our annual summer study, which includes its usual distribution of technical topics from different agencies in the federal government.”

This is the second time the Pentagon has tried to cut its ties to Jason. In 2002, Tony Tether, the director of its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, pulled Jason’s contract after the group rejected his attempt to add three members. But several months later Jason struck a deal with another DoD entity and stayed in business.

That unit, now led by Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, is believed to be the driving force behind last month’s decision.

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