Secretive Group of Elite Scientists Saved From Pentagon Budget Cuts at the Last Minute

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U.S. Department of Energy undersecretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration Lisa Gordon-Hagerty in July 2018
U.S. Department of Energy undersecretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration Lisa Gordon-Hagerty in July 2018
Photo: AP

The Jason Group, an advisory panel of scientists and academics that have conducted studies for the Pentagon since 1960, might not be dissolving after all. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has stepped in to keep the group alive until January 2020.

First reported by Defense News, the NNSA posted a contract online late Thursday that will allow the Jasons to continue their research despite being abandoned by the Pentagon earlier this month. The Jasons were scheduled to disband on April 30 and military leaders were trying to position the cancelation of the Jason contract as a cost-savings measure.

“NNSA has issued a notice of intent to award a short-term sole source contract to MITRE Corporation to provide management and logistics support to the JASON program and its members through January 31, 2020,” NNSA spokesperson Ana M. Gamonal de Navarro said in a statement sent to Gizmodo via email.


MITRE Corporation has sponsored the Jasons ever since the group was formally spun off from Darpa in 2002. The notice for the contract will be up for 15 days, per government regulations.

The Jasons have a long history with the U.S. military and intelligence communities, conducting research on everything from AI to space imaging systems to health care. The group of roughly 50 people meets to tackle America’s most complex scientific and technological problems, and has recently produced critical studies on nuclear weapons security and climate change.


When the Jason contract was quietly put on the chopping block and its termination only revealed during a House budget meeting, many in the academic community were concerned that the government would lose an independent voice that has been able to speak freely in a political environment where consensus and yes-men are often the norm. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the head of the NNSA and ultimate savior of the Jasons, stressed that the work of the Jasons was important and worth preserving.

But the Jasons haven’t been without their own controversies over the years. During the Vietnam War, the group was tasked with figuring out how to stop the flow of troops and weapons from North Vietnam to the South. They devised controversial technologies for Operation Igloo White, which utilized computers and battlefield sensors, producing a “virtual wall” that ultimately failed to stem the flow of guns and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail that were being used against American troops and their allies.


When the Jason contract looked to be in jeopardy it wasn’t clear whether anyone outside of the Pentagon would step up to keep the group together. But NNSA has reiterated that Jason studies are vital to America’s safety and security, especially when it comes to nuclear weapons and the maintenance of the U.S. stockpile.

“JASON is a group of elite scientists and engineers who advise NNSA and the United States Government on matters of science and technology, mostly of a sensitive nature, and has provided significant contributions to NNSA’s mission of ensuring a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile and preventing nuclear weapon proliferation around the world,” Navarro told Gizmodo. “NNSA cannot afford a contractual gap in the services MITRE provides.”