During his professorship at Williams College, he invested much of his own time and money to found the Williams College men's rowing team, despite heavy resistance from the administration at the time. In recognition of Shaw's perseverance, one of the shells in the John A. Shaw Boathouse is named Pride and Persistence. Additionally, an award bearing his name is given out each year to a male rower who epitomizes his will to keep fighting in the face of adversity.
In 1975 he was confirmed by the Senate as Inspector General of Foreign Assistance and Assistant Secretary of State, responsible for the oversight of all U.S. Foreign Military Sales, U.S. AID, the Peace Corps, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Export-Import Bank. From 1986-88 he served as Senior Advisor to the Administrator of Agency for International Development. From 1989-91 he served as Associate Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the Department of Commerce, and oversaw a major effort to reform the Bureau of Export Administration. In 1992 he was nominated as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement, receiving a recess appointment when the revised Export Administration Act was vetoed.
From 1978-80, Mr. Shaw returned to the private sector as a Vice President of Booz-Allen & Hamilton International, overseeing the development, organization and management of two new industrial cities, Jubail and Yanbu, in Saudi Arabia. These cities constituted the largest development project in the world. He worked for several management consulting companies, the St. Phalle International Group and the Cambridge Consulting Group, overseeing international business development projects. From 1980-84 he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, specializing in Middle Eastern and International Business Affairs, and was Vice President for Washington Operations for the Hudson Institute, then overseeing the Center for Naval Analyses, from 1985-86.
Mr. Shaw was responsible for tracking Saddam Hussein's weapons programs before and after the 2003 liberation of Iraq. He stated in October 2004, March 2005, and again in February 2006 that it was the Russians who helped Saddam Hussein to "clean up" his weapons of mass destruction stockpiles "to prevent the United States from discovering them."
In particular, on February 18, 2006, Shaw told a conference at The Intelligence Summit in Alexandria, Virginia, that "The short answer to the question of where the WMD Saddam bought from the Russians went was that they went" to Syria and the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, Kenneth R. Timmerman reported February 19, 2006, in NewsMax. "They were moved by Russian Spetsnaz (special forces) units out of uniform, that were specifically sent to Iraq to move the weaponry and eradicate any evidence of its existence," Shaw said.
After accusing Russian GRU of helping Saddam to remove his WMD, Shaw was asked to resign for "exceeding his authority" in disclosing the information, a charge he called "specious." ,
Shaw stated that he went public with his comments regarding Russia moving Iraq's WMD when he did to help George W. Bush who he felt was being "crucified" by the revelations that over 350 tons of explosives had gone missing in Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion He said "If I had not had the openly hostile environment in [Pentagon public affairs], I would have moved the story differently. Getting the truth out instantly was more important than process."
On the other hand, Journalist Christian Miller from the Los Angeles Times claimed (based on unidentified sources) that Shaw was the subject of an FBI investigation because he conducted unauthorized investigations of Iraq reconstruction efforts and used the results of these unauthorized probes to direct multimillion dollar government contracts to his friends and associates . However no official investigation was ever opened according to statements by US Department of Defense and the US Justice Department.