An exclusive group of academic scientists is moving up the Pentagon food chain and will soon resume a 40-year flow of unvarnished technical advice to the U.S. government.
One month after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) acknowledged dropping its support of Jason (ScienceNOW, 25 March), the group is nearing completion of a similar arrangement with the higher ranking Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E). The new relationship comes just in time for the next planning meeting of the self-selected group of scientists, which produces often-classified studies on a variety of issues. "It's important to have academics helping [the defense department] address tough problems," says Delores Etter, a former acting head of DDR&E who is now at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. "Even more so since 9/11."
The ties between Jason and the military, formed in the wake of Sputnik, were severed last December after DARPA officials concluded that Jason had not kept up with the times and that its studies focused too heavily on physics. Jason disputed that assessment, noting that a third of its members were not physicists and citing recent studies ranging from modeling biological systems to building computers with molecular electronics. The real reason for the split, say Jason members, was that the group had rejected three members proposed by DARPA whom Jason saw as unqualified. Members privately fumed that their specialty--inventing and advising on technological wizardry such as non-Global Positioning System methods of geolocation and counterterrorism devices--is particularly valuable in the current geopolitical situation.
The new contract is expected to be completed by 1 May, and DDR&E officials have declined to comment beforehand. But DDR&E is said to be willing to mostly match DARPA's $1.5-million-a-year contribution--nearly half Jason's budget--and serve as a conduit through which Jason's other clients, including the Department of Energy and the intelligence community, can funnel money and requests for studies. Gordon MacDonald, a senior adviser with Jason, says Jason's new home might boost its visibility. "More of Jason's recommendations could get the Pentagon's serious attention," says MacDonald.