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FYI Number 36: March 27, 2002

Rep. Holt Expresses Concern Over DOD Decision to Disband JASON

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has sent letters to key Members of the House of Representatives about the Defense Department decision to disband JASON. As reported this week on National Public Radio and in The New York Times, this action resulted from an impasse over the membership of this secretive panel that advises the Defense Department and other federal agencies.

According to Holt, a decision about JASON's future must be made by April 1 if the scheduled spring meeting is to be held. The following letter was sent to the leaders of the House Armed Services Committee and House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee:

March 26, 2002

The Honorable Ike Skelton Ranking Member, Committee on Armed Services 2206 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Congressman Skelton:

I am writing to express my concern with the Department of Defense's recent decision to disband JASON, a group of scientists that has advised the Department on scientific issues for many decades.

JASON was founded in 1958. It consists of an evolving group of approximately fifty academic scientists who convene semiannually to study selected scientific issues for the military and other federal agencies. The important feature of JASON is that, even though it is funded by DARPA and other agencies, JASON acts independently of the Department of Defense and these agencies. This ensures that the advice that JASON gives is unbiased.

The decision to cut JASON's funding stems from the group's refusal to allow DARPA to select three new JASON members. For 44 years, the current members of JASON have selected the new members. This selection process maintains JASON's autonomy and ensures that their decisions are not based on any obligation to the Department of Defense. Allowing the Department of Defense to choose JASON's members would compromise the objectivity and independence of the group's advice.

Composed of extraordinarily creative people, JASON has developed such ideas as a system for communicating with submarines using radio wavelengths thousands of kilometers long, techniques for distinguishing incoming missiles from decoys, and an efficient way to build a laser using free electrons. JASON consists of physicists, biologists, chemists and computer scientists and can claim eight Noble Prize laureates and dozens of members of the National Academies among its past and present members.

I have met with JASON in the past and know personally that JASON is truly a valuable source of advice for the Department of Defense. The decision to disband the group deprives our country of something that America badly needs - a creative, independent approach to the challenging security problems facing our nation. I hope that you will take steps to reinstate JASON. The decision to continue JASON must be made by April 1 if their spring meeting is to take place as planned. This is a small investment financially for a very valuable service.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need additional information or if I can be of assistance in any other way.

Sincerely,

RUSH HOLT Member of Congress

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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