JASON and NRAC Contracts Cancelled by the Pentagon

JASON is an independent advisory panel of elite scientists that was created in 1960 to address a wide range of scientific and technical issues, primarily for the U.S. military. Originally, the JASON panel had about 20 members, known informally as Jasons, increasing to about 40 members by the 1970s.  JASON maintains its independence by requiring that new members be selected by its existing members rather than by external sponsors.  

JASON is a very controversial organization with a very low public profile.  For a good introduction to JASON, I recommend Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book, “The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite,”  which is available from Amazon and other booksellers. You can watch an hour-long video created by Microsoft Research with Ann Finkbeiner providing an excellent narrative overview (no Powerpoint slides) on JASON here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV1TBiwdZeg

Ann Finkbeiner notes: “Working in secrecy to solve highly classified problems for the Department of Defense, CIA, and NSA is an elite group of scientific advisors who provide the government with analyses on defense and arms control and they call themselves JASON.  Named for the hero in Jason and the Argonauts, the group grew out of the Manhattan Project and counts as its members scientists such as Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann.  Of the roughly one hundred Jasons over time, 43 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, eight have won MacArthur awards, one a Field’s Medal, and 11 have won Nobel Prizes.  Its members have gathered every summer since 1960, working in absolute secrecy and with unparalleled freedom.  The Jasons’ work poses vital questions: what role should the government play in scientific research? At what point is the inventor accountable for the hazards of the invention?”

You’ll find a list of JASON research topics compiled on Wikipedia here:

https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/JASON_(advisory_group).html

Most of the resulting JASON reports are classified.  You’ll find a list of unclassified JASON reports (and links) on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website at the following link:

https://fas.org/irp/agency/dod/jason/

Since the late 1970s, the JASONs have been assigned tasks and been funded via Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts managed by MITRE Corporation.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) issued MITRE’s most recent five-year IDIQ contract for managing JASON tasking and funding.   Task Orders are issued under the main IDIQ contract and the actual work is performed according to the individual task orders. The IDIQ contract structure broadly allows government agencies to commission a JASON study and fund it via a new task order.  MITRE’s IDIQ contract expired on 31 March 2019.  A follow-on IDIQ contract was in the works, but OSD cancelled that solicitation on short notice on 28 March 2019. 

On 10 April 2019, the article, “Pentagon Cancels Contract for JASON Advisory Panel,” written by Steven Aftergood, was posted on the FAS website at the following link:

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2019/04/pentagon-jason/?utm_source=FAS+General&utm_campaign=495e653a5b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_21_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_56a7496199-495e653a5b-222204421

FAS speculated that, “The Pentagon move to cancel the JASON contract appears to be part of a larger trend by federal agencies to limit independent scientific and technical advice.”  This trend appears to include the Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC), which is the Navy counterpart to the Army Science Board and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. 

On 5 April 2019, Steve Aftergood reported that, “This week the U.S. Navy abruptly terminated its own scientific advisory group, depriving the service of a source of internal critique and evaluation. The Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) was established by legislation in 1946 and provided science and technology advice to the Navy for the past 73 years. Now it’s gone.  The decision to disestablish the Committee was announced in a March 29 Federal Register notice.”  You can read this report on the FAS website here:

https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2019/04/nrac-terminated/?utm_source=FAS+General&utm_campaign=495e653a5b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_21_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_56a7496199-495e653a5b-222204421

You can get an understanding of NRAC’s advisory role by visiting their website, which is still online at the following link:

https://www.nrac.navy.mil

NRAC published reports from 1988 are available online here:

https://www.nrac.navy.mil/reports.asp

Efforts are underway on several fronts to attempt to restore funding for JASON and NRAC.  Hopefully funding can be restored and these independent advisory groups can continue providing important scientific and technical advice to the U.S. government.

Additional resources related to JASON:

  • Joel Shurkin, “True Genius: The Life and Work of Richard Garwin, the Most Influential Scientist You’ve Never Heard of,” Prometheus Books, 21 February 2017      

Lyncean link

At meeting #65 of the Lyncean Group in August 2011, the subject of our presentation was “Experience with the JASONs.”  See more at the following link: https://lynceans.org/talk-65-82411/

Update 26 April 2019

It appears that the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)  intends to take over the contract for the Jason Group. See the article, “After Pentagon Ends Contract, Top-Secret Scientists Group Vows To Carry On,” on the NPR website at the following link:

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/25/717225118/after-pentagon-ends-contract-top-secret-scientists-group-vows-to-carry-on