JASON Science Advisory Panel Endures

12.07.20 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Having survived a Pentagon attempt to terminate it, the JASON panel that performs independent technical assessments for government agencies now seems set for a period of relative stability.

Last year Mike Griffin, then-Under Secretary of Defense (Research and Engineering), abruptly refused to renew his Office’s sponsorship of the JASONs, and the panel was temporarily taken over by the National Nuclear Security Administration under then-Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty.

In response, Congress directed the Department of Defense to engage the JASONs “on an ongoing basis, on matters involving science, technology, and national security, including methods to defeat existential and technologically-amplified threats to national security.”

Despite that clear directive, DoD requested no funding at all for the JASONs in the current fiscal year. So the House added $3 million to cover overhead costs for the JASONs and the money was in fact authorized in the pending defense authorization act for fiscal year 2021 that is expected to pass this week.

The Department of Defense recently indicated that it would solicit competitive bids for administrative and management support to the JASONs, which is currently provided by the MITRE Corporation. (“Pentagon’s Advisory Group, JASON, Survives Another Competition,” by Robert Levinson, Bloomberg Government, December 1).

The demand for the sort of independent evaluations that the JASONs produce is limited. Unlike many other government advisory panels, the JASONs insist on selecting their own members. That means that their studies cannot be skewed by appointing political allies or persons of dubious qualifications, as the Trump Administration has done lately with the Defense Business Board. Their expertise and independence does not guarantee that they will be right or effective, but the JASONs offer a kind of integrity that is increasingly absent from other such panels.

The majority of JASON products are classified or otherwise restricted from public release. One recent unclassified report that was done by the JASONs for the Census Bureau discussed ways to employ secure computation technologies to increase the usage and the utility of datasets held by the Bureau. See Secure Computation for Business Data, November 23, 2020.

Another recent report offered suggestions to the National Science Foundation on how to mitigate the effects of large constellations of orbiting satellites on ground-based astronomical observations. See Impacts of Large Satellite Constellations on Optical Astronomy, September 10, 2020.

These and other JASON reports are moderately dense and technical and may not attract a large audience. But interested readers will often find them stimulating and informative.