A big, mostly Democratic group of lawmakers from both sides of Capitol Hill wants the Pentagon to explain why it ditched its decades-old consultancy contract with the MITRE Corp.’s JASON group of scientists, a move that prompted the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to step in and fund the contract
That is according to a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that was posted online by the Federation of American Scientists.
In the May 3 letter, the 28 lawmakers did not set a deadline for Shanahan to reply — although they did ask specifically if an ongoing JASON study on the lifetime of plutonium pits, nuclear-weapon cores, will wrap up on time.
Among the signatories were several lawmakers important within the nuclear security enterprise: Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), whose congressional district includes the Y-12 National Security Complex; Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee and a money wrangler for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in his state; and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chair of the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee that write the first draft of DOE’s annual budget bill.
The Pentagon decided to cancel the JASON contract in late March. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) made the cancellation public during an April 9 hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, which he chairs. Cooper dropped the news during a round of questioning with NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty.
The NNSA subsequently decided to fund the JASON contract through January so the group can finish three pending studies commissioned by the semiautonomous DOE nuclear weapons agency. The pit study is among these.
“We commend the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for stepping forward to assume responsibility for the JASON contract through January 2020,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Shanahan. “However, given the national security interests involved in cancellation of the JASON contract, a permanent solution must be found.”