Feature

Unwelcome advice?

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Science  28 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6447, pp. 1222-1225
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6447.1222

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Summary

After 59 years of service, Jason, the famed science advisory group, was being fired, and it didn't know why. On 29 March, the exclusive and shadowy group of some 65 scientists was shocked to receive a letter from the Department of Defense (DOD) saying it had just over 1 month to pack up its files and wind down its affairs. It soon received notice of a temporary reprieve, from the Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which for decades had commissioned Jason to study the health of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. NNSA said it couldn't afford a gap in its studies and pledged to pick up the Jason contract, at least until January 2020. But Jason still lacks a long-term home—and faces an existential question: Can a group created during the Cold War's nuclear and missile races, when the U.S. government was keenly aware it needed scientific advice, survive today? Times and national problems have changed. The government employs many more of its own scientists and has many options for getting scientists' advice. But the group has always had a plan for survival. It actively self-renews—between two and five young scientists join Jason every year—and it is diversifying its customer base. Traditionally, Jason did national security studies for DOD, DOE, and the intelligence agencies. In the past 5 years, though, it has ramped up its nondefense studies and now works with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Census Bureau, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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