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New Evidence Of Conflict of Interest In JEDI Contract

Posted by Paul McLeary on

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The Defense Department’s strategy to transition to cloud computing. Note the prominent role for the JEDI project.

WASHINGTON The massive and troubled $10 billion cloud contract the Pentagon has been pursuing has run into another snag. DoD revealed Tuesday it has obtained “new information” pointing to potential of conflicts of interest in the competition, already widely criticized for favoring Amazon Web Services.

Pentagon spokesperson Elissa Smith confirmed to Breaking Defense that “new information not previously provided to DOD has emerged related to potential conflicts of interest,” and as a result of this new information, “DOD is continuing to investigate these potential conflicts.”

Last year, both Oracle and IBM filed pre-award protests against the JEDI Cloud solicitation, but the Government Accountability Office rejected both protests in November and December respectively.

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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos

Oracle then filed suit in federal court alleging the Pentagon’s plan to award to contract to a single vendor award is illegal. In rejecting the company’s earlier complaint, the GAO argued the Pentagon’s “decision to pursue a single-award approach to obtain these cloud services is consistent with applicable statutes (and regulations) because the agency reasonably determined that a single-award approach is in the government’s best interests for various reasons, including national security concerns, as the statute allows.”

The Defense Department’s own cloud strategy repeatedly says the Pentagon lacks the expertise to set up large scale cloud services and needs to rely on a single private sector partner, at least “initially”: “The Department has never built or implemented an enterprise cloud solution and therefore, recognizes the importance of finding a commercial partner to help begin the process…..The magnitude of effort required to stand up a General Purpose cloud at the scale and complexity of the Department is initially best served through a single provider that will allow DoD to maximize pace and minimize risk.”

But not everyone’s convinced. Late last year, two members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee called on the Pentagon’s Inspector General to investigate the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure — or JEDI — cloud contract. The lawmakers, Tom Cole and Steve Womack, sent a letter to the DoD charging the government’s requirements for the program “seem to be tailored to one specific contractor,” namely, Amazon Web Services.

While Amazon wasn’t mentioned in the letter, the company has long been considered the front-runner for the long-term contract after Alphabet’s Google took itself out of the running.

The lawsuit by Oracle in the Court of Federal Claims charges DoD’s Cloud Executive Steering Group was committed to the single-vendor approach from the very beginning. Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan signed a memo standing up the group in September 2017.

Oracle has also charged that former DoD employee, Deap Ubhi, a Defense Digital Service member had a “personal and substantial” role at the outset of JEDI planning. Ubhi was employed by Amazon Web Services before working in the Pentagon and has since returned to the corporate fold after leaving the Pentagon: Allowing top private sector talent to help the military for a brief tour, without sacrificing their civilian careers, is the entire point of the Defense Digital Service, but it certainly complicates DoD’s traditionally rigid separation of government officials from contractors. It is unclear if the Pentagon’s new findings deal with Ubhi or other officials. 


Sydney Freedberg also contributed to this article.

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