In the United States, a blue-ribbon panel (or blue ribbon commission) is a group of exceptional people appointed to investigate or study or analyze a given question. Blue-ribbon panels generally have a degree of independence from political influence or other authority, and such panels usually have no direct authority of their own. Their value comes from their ability to use their expertise to issue findings or recommendations which can then be used by those with decision-making power to act.
A blue-ribbon panel is often appointed by a government body or executive to report on a matter of controversy. It might be composed of independent scientific experts or academics with no direct government ties to study a particular issue or question, or it might be composed of citizens well known for their general intelligence, experience and non-partisan interests to study a matter of political reform. The "blue-ribbon" aspect comes from the presentation of the panel as the "best and brightest" for the task, and the appointment of such a panel, ad hoc, is meant to signal its perspective as outsiders of the usual process for study and decisions.
The designation "blue-ribbon" is often made by the appointing authority, and may be disputed by others who might see the panel as less independent, or as a way for an authority to dodge responsibility.
Recent examples of high-level so-called blue-ribbon panels in the United States would be the Warren Commission investigating the Kennedy Assassination, the 9/11 Commission investigating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Iraq Study Group assessing the Iraq War and the Clinton Administration's White House Task Force on National Health Care Reform. In each case, the panel did not have authority to indict or legislate, and their brief was to investigate and issue a report on the facts as they found them with recommendations for changes for government policy in the future.
The term has leaked into official usage. From January 29, 2010 to January 2012, the U.S. had a Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. There are other government and private commissions with "Blue Ribbon Commission" in their names. These and others are often referred to simply as "the Blue Ribbon Commission" or "the blue ribbon commission", creating the potential for confusion.
A blue ribbon panel concerning a police shooting appears in the television series The Good Wife in season 3 episode 19. It deals with the problems such panels face in order to reach conclusions under political influence.
- http://brc.gov/ Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future
- Chapter One, "Presidents and the Blue-Ribbon Option," in Kenneth Kitts, Presidential Commissions and National Security: The Politics of Damage Control (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006).