The Naval Research Advisory Committee

Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC)

The Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) is an independent civilian scientific advisory group dedicated to providing objective analyses in the areas of science, research and development. By its recommendations, the NRAC calls attention to important issues and presents Navy management with alternative courses of action. It is the senior scientific advisory group to the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Chief of Naval Research. As a permanent committee of experts, it acts as a corporate consultant and advisor to top-level Navy officials. The Committee reports to the Secretary of the Navy through the Assistant Secretary to the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN (RD&A).

Reliance on advisory committees as a tool for assessing the Navy’s research and development programs has been well established. The Permanent Commission, founded in 1863, was the earliest. Subsequent advisory committees utilizing civilian experience and skills in solving major technical problems followed. Among the best known was the World War I Consulting Board, attached to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy. It considered the-then-major problems of research and development, and recommended the establishment of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).

Near the end of World War II, several prominent scientists were concerned that the loss of existing scientific manpower and the absence of organizational ties to the scientific community at large would present serious deficiencies for defense-related research efforts. The national gratitude for and the strong recognition of the value of research and development for national defense was firmly entrenched at this time. In response a core group, interested in peacetime organization of Navy research and development, envisioned:

  1. a central research office in the Office of the Secretary of the Navy headed by an admiral, receiving funds from Congress for research projects
  2. having a powerful research advisory committee made up of top scientists
The initial plans for this organization occurred during evening meetings at a professor’s home. Among the group were several young naval reserve officer scientists who nurtured and pursued his goal over every unimaginable hurdle. By September 1945, the Vinson Bill had been drafted by Congress, and in 1946, Public Law 588, 79th Congress, created the Office of Naval Research and also the Naval Research Advisory Committee.

The Committee concentrated its first ten years on advising the Chief of Naval Research in developing the new Office of Naval Research and laying the groundwork and policy for the conduct of basic research. In 1956, Admiral Arleigh Burke, then Chief of Naval Operations, asked the Naval Research Advisory Committee to intensify its activities on his behalf. The Committee accepted this challenge. At its 27 th meeting, the NRAC Chairperson stated what became the Committee’s central mission.

To know the problems of the Navy and Marine Corps, keep abreast of the current research and development programs, and provide an independent, objective assessment capability through investigative studies.

Limited by law to 15 members who are preeminent in the fields of science, research, and development, with one member specializing in medicine. They are selected from industry, academia and research institutes, and non-DoD government agencies, and are appointed by the Secretary of the Navy to a two-year term.

The committee normally meets quarterly and also when called by the Committee Chairperson. One of the meetings is a two-week summer study. Meetings are held at different Navy and Marine Corps installations, laboratories, and on board fleet units such as submarines, aircraft carriers, and ships — to provide the members with substantive exposure to maritime activities and experiences.

A steering group, titled the NRAC Executive Committee, identifies and recommends to the ASN (RD&A) topics and their associated "terms of reference" (TOR) for NRAC investigation. Upon ASN (RD&A) approval, the NRAC Chair selects a panel chairperson for the effort, who then (1) proposes the panel’s membership, and (2) formulates a plan to accomplish the topic’s objectives.

The actual investigative work of the NRAC is performed by its panels. An NRAC panel is an organization formed for the specific purpose of executing an assigned study’s terms of reference. Led by a panel chairperson, selected from the NRAC 15-member Committee, its membership is purposefully composed to bring together experts who, in the aggregate, provide a balanced view of the topic. A panel, with a membership comprised mostly of non-DoD individuals, meets at different military locations throughout the country to better acquaint itself with the Navy’s perspective of the problem. Upon completion of the briefing program, the members discuss and formulate a final set of findings and recommendations in response to the study’s terms of reference. Normal duration of a panel is six to 12 months. Normal membership size varies from 6 to 15 with approximately half of the panel's members coming from the 15 member standing committee.

End Products
The products of each panel study are, (1) a set of formal briefings to the ASN(RD&A), the affected Navy activities, and Washington area DoD/DoN program offices, and (2) a written report of findings and recommendations, which, in many cases, includes a suggested implementation plan. Each report is approved by the NRAC Chair and the ASN(RD&A), and distributed to appropriate Naval and DoD activities.

Implementation of Recommendations/Assessments
Implementation of follow-up courses of action based upon panel recommendations is initiated at the direction of the ASN(RD&A).


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