WASHINGTON — The National Nuclear Security Administration is making a play to save a scientific advisory group, just days before its contract with the Pentagon is set to expire.

On Thursday, the NNSA quietly put a notice of a sole-source contract up on the FedBizOps website, to "award a short-term sole source contract to MITRE Corporation to provide management and logistics support to the Jason program and its members, referred to as ‘The Jasons.’”

In essence, NNSA seeks to recreate the Pentagon’s contract with the advisory group through the end of next January, in order to keep key research from falling apart.

"NNSA has issued a notice of intent to award a short-term sole source contract to MITRE Corporation to provide management and logistics support to the Jason program and its members through January 31, 2020,” agency spokesman Gregory Wolf told Defense News.

“JASON is a group of elite scientists and engineers who advise NNSA and the United States Government on matters of science and technology, mostly of a sensitive nature, and has provided significant contributions to NNSA’s mission of ensuring a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile and preventing nuclear weapon proliferation around the world. NNSA cannot afford a contractual gap in the services MITRE provides."

The Jason program dates back the 1950s, when the Pentagon put together a panel of scientific experts to provide outside advice. That contract is now managed by the MITRE group, and run through the Pentagon’s undersecretary of research and engineering.

According to a 2006 book written about the group, the panel played major roles in developing, or lambasting, technical ideas for the department, including pushing to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons and a controversial stretch of ideas during the Vietnam War. Much of their work, however, has been classified.

The latest contract for the group’s work existed under an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, which allowed for an unlimited number of deliveries over a fixed time period. That contract was between the Pentagon’s undersecretary of research and engineering and the MITRE corporation.

However, that contract was allowed to expire on March 31, with a final tasking order set to expire at the end of April. The Pentagon has said the move was made as a cost-saving measure and that the open-ended nature of Jason no longer makes sense.

And while the DoD said it intends to still use JASON for one-off contracts, critics have said that the financial setup for the panel requires a constant stream of work and that attempting to do piecemeal studies will lead to the closure of the group.

The NNSA’s plan to keep JASON alive came together quickly, in just the last few weeks. While there will be some sort of gap between when the Pentagon contract expires and NNSA can get theirs off the ground, it is not expected to be a large gap in time.

The NNSA contract would mirror the ID/IQ nature of the Pentagon’s legacy contract. Meanwhile, the agency will use the time to “perform market research to determine a long term strategy for obtaining JASON scientific support services,” an indication that alternative solutions may be an option.

The cancellation of the Jason contract came to light during a hearing featuring NNSA head Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who said she had asked her staff to look into what the Pentagon’s cancellation of the contract would mean for her agency.

“I found their reports to be fulsome and the members of JASON to be knowledgeable about issues associated with our programs at NNSA,” Gordon-Hagerty said during that hearing, when asked if the agency had benefited from the advisory panel.

The agency currently has three studies being considered and planned with Jason, related to “cyber security of operating equipment, nuclear detonation detection, and plutonium aging,” according to Wolf.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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