Pentagon Inspector Unable To Say If White House Influenced JEDI Decision

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Investigation into JEDI contract award to Amazon unable to determine if President Trump’s White House influenced the decision

The US Department of Defense Office of Inspector General has been unable to rule out if President Trump’s White House influenced the decision of a key contract award.

In October last year, the Pentagon had officially awarded the $10 billion JEDI contract to Microsoft Azure, despite Amazon’s AWS cloud division being widely regarded as favourite to win the contract.

Essentially, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract aims to create a single cloud architecture across all the military branches and combatant commands. The idea is to allow a seamless workflow and information-sharing environment.

White House

JEDI probe

“On June 11, 2019, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General initiated a review of the DoD Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud procurement, and an investigation into allegations that former DoD officials engaged in ethical misconduct related to the JEDI Cloud procurement,” the Inspector General said.

“Specifically, we reviewed the DoD’s decision to award the JEDI Cloud contract to a single contractor; the development of the requirements in the Request for Proposals; the DoD’s source selection process; the disclosures of source selection and proprietary information after contract award; and whether the JEDI Cloud source selection was influenced by outside pressure,” it added.

“We also investigated allegations of ethical misconduct relating to JEDI, including allegations that DoD officials had financial interests that conflicted with duties that related to the JEDI Cloud procurement; failed to comply with standards that govern seeking post-Government employment; and improperly disclosed procurement information,” it said.

It then published a 313 page report on the matter, available here.

But according to Reuters, the Pentagon’s inspector general could not determine whether the White House influenced the award of a $10 billion contract to Microsoft over Amazon, because several officials said their conversations were privileged “presidential communications.”

Presidential communications

“We could not definitively determine the full extent or nature of interactions that administration officials had, or may have had, with senior DoD officials regarding the JEDI Cloud procurement because of the assertion of a ‘presidential communications privilege,’” the report said.

The report also said “we could not be certain whether there were any White House communications with some DoD officials which may have affected the JEDI procurement,” and added they did not find any evidence of a DoD official acting for the White House to influence the process.

Reuters reported that the finding leaves open the question of whether President Trump improperly influenced this closely watched contract.

The Defense Department however said the report “should finally close the door on the media and corporate-driven attacks on the career procurement officials” involved with JEDI.

Yet this is highly unlikely to satisfy both Amazon itself and Democrat lawmakers.

The White House and Amazon did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Political influence?

Amazon had been very unhappy at what it believed was political bias from US President Donald Trump, and in November 2019 it filed a complaint with the US Court of Federal Claims contesting that decision.

Amazon has long felt that the Pentagon decision was politically motivated by President Trump’s dislike of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post, which Bezos owns.

Indeed, AWS CEO Andy Jassy had previously said in an interview that he believed the decision was not adjudicated fairly and called for the whole JEDI decision process to be reviewed.

Amazon has essentially argued that politics got in the way of a fair contracting process, and in December 2019 Amazon officially named President Trump in its court complaint, and accused him of exerting “improper pressure” and bias.

In January this year Amazon filed a temporary restraining order with a US court to demand that Microsoft halt work on the US Department of Defense cloud contract.

Then in February a US judge granted Amazon’s request to temporarily halt the DoD and Microsoft from moving forward on the up-to-$10 billion cloud computing deal,

Then in March the DoD confirmed it was reconsidering parts of its decision to award Microsoft the JEDI cloud contract, in its entirety.

Acrimonious bidding

And it is fair to say that the JEDI contract was blighted by a highly acrimonious bidding process, right from the start.

In July 2019 President Donald Trump said that he was “looking very seriously” at the Pentagon cloud contract, and that it should be investigated.

The President said he would direct aides to investigate the pending military contract, saying he had heard multiple complaints about an allegedly unfair bidding process.

The project was then briefly placed on hold, until Defense Secretary Mark Esper could ‘review’ the program.

In the end, there were only two bidders for the contract, namely Amazon and Microsoft, with Azure being the eventually winner.

AWS had been considered the clear favourite to win the contract, as AWS already provided some cloud services to the DoD, and in 2013 won a $600m cloud contract with the CIA.

A book by the speech writer for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis alleged that Trump had asked Mattis in the summer of 2018 to “screw Amazon” out of a chance to bid on the contract.

Mattis declined.

The Department of Defense for its part has always said that the acquisition process “was conducted in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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