Welcome to another installment of The Intelligence Brief, where we look at what you need to know about in the world of defense and technology. With the DoD’s recent big announcement that it will be cancelling its JEDI contract with Microsoft, we look at 1) what the Pentagon has said about its decision, 2) the multiple controversies that have impeded the program’s progress that range from politics and industry, to court battles, and finally, 3) what newly released court documents tell us about the situation, and what it means for the DoD’s plans moving forward.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the Pentagon’s delayed Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud solicitation, a disputed cloud-computing contract it held with Microsoft, has been canceled. Shifting from its previous aims to work exclusively with a single company, the DoD has indicated it now will likely plan for a shared contract between Microsoft, Amazon, and possibly several other service providers.
In a DoD release, the Pentagon stated that it had “determined that, due to evolving requirements, increased cloud conversancy, and industry advances, the JEDI Cloud contract no longer meets its needs,” adding that it “continues to have unmet cloud capability gaps for enterprise-wide, commercial cloud services at all three classification levels that work at the tactical edge, at scale,” according to the release.
The DoD release cited the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), as well as its Artificial Intelligence and Data Acceleration (ADA) initiatives among the factors that have advanced the Pentagon’s needs in the years since the inception of the long-delayed JEDI program.
Plans for JEDI were initiated during a period where cloud technologies in use by the American military were comparatively still in their infancy. John Sherman, acting DoD Chief Information Officer, says that the DoD expects that utilization of several cloud environments will be required to “achieve dominance in both traditional and non-traditional warfighting domains.”
Pentagon Press Secretary and Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs John Kirby confirmed Lloyd Austin’s support for the move during a White House press conference on Tuesday, where he noted that Austin “as secretary of defense was obviously the final approval of this decision.”
The force wasn’t with JEDI this time around, in other words. Although the real story behind the DoD’s decision to cancel its prospective cloud-computing contract is an even more complicated affair.
Conflicts of Interest
The Pentagon avoided mentioning the ongoing legal problems it had faced in light of Amazon being ousted from the deal, which both it and Microsoft were initially expected to participate in. The Associated Press reported earlier this week about Amazon’s view that the solicitation had been “tainted by politics” due to clashes between Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Donald Trump.
Politics and personalities aside, the DoD’s efforts to award the JEDI contract to a single company has remained a target for pushback not only from companies like Amazon, but other sectors of industry, and even Congress almost since its inception. Early in the solicitation process, several pre-award bid protests had been filed with the Government Accountability Office by Oracle America (all of which were denied), which was followed with a lawsuit filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The court ruled against Oracle America in a July 2019 decision.
“In filings associated with its bid protests,” read a Congressional Research Service report from August 2019, “Oracle America alleged in part that the JEDI Cloud acquisition process was unfairly skewed in favor of Amazon Web Services through potential organizational conflicts of interest associated with three former DOD employees, each of whom was involved to greater or lesser degrees in the early development of the program.” The DoD later determined that despite the fact there had been violations of ethical standards in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, there had been no conflicts of interest as far as Amazon Web Services and its involvement.
Additional controversy surrounded issues raised by some involving federal guidelines related to the tapping of cloud computing industries by government agencies, the primary argument resting on the importance of multi-cloud solutions (the likes of which the DoD now says it will pursue) for such purposes. This might have been the DoD’s goal all along, though, with consideration of its 2019 Cloud Strategy document which appeared to outline the Department’s intention to utilize multiple cloud systems.
“The Department will best take advantage of these capabilities by executing this succinct, integrated, and adaptive cloud strategy that encompasses multiple clouds and missions across the entire DoD,” the 2019 document read, later going on to note that “These standards, combined with the computing power offered by cloud, will allow the Department to function at a tempo never before seen, making informed, analytical decisions at machine speed.”
“The Department must take advantage of the advances that American private industry has made,” the Cloud Strategy document also states. “All of this will be built into commercial pricing structures. IfDoD can adopt this commercial mindset toward cloud computing, it can incorporate commercial industry lessons learned into future architecture decisions.” Nonetheless, opponents contended that if the DoD awarded its JEDI contract to a single bidder, this could have an opposite effect of limiting the kinds of future industry competition the Pentagon’s own plans appeared to convey.
To the Courts, and Looking Ahead
Only days prior to the DoD’s official announcement that it would be canceling its JEDI contract, it was disclosed in court documents released last Friday that another bid protest lawsuit resulted in a federal judge ruling that Amazon Web Services had been treated unfairly with the DoD’s choice to work exclusively with Microsoft. Further, it found that Microsoft was granted the contract, despite having included within its bid a technical approach that the court found to be noncompliant with the terms of the DoD contract.
The release of these court documents followed an order issued by Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith in June, which prevented the DoD from moving forward with its contract with Microsoft. Notably absent from the court documents, however, had been any mention of ideological clashes between former President Trump and Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post who recently stepped down from his position as CEO of Amazon.
Although the DoD has had little to say about the legal disputes it had been facing with JEDI, Microsoft acknowledged the issue in a statement issued by the company, while maintaining its support for the Department’s new plans.
“We understand the DoD’s rationale, and we support them and every military member who needs the mission-critical 21st century technology JEDI would have provided,” the Microsoft statement read. “The DoD faced a difficult choice: Continue with what could be a years-long litigation battle or find another path forward.”
Update: An Amazon spokesperson reached out to The Debrief with an updated statement from the company, which read as follows:
“We understand and agree with the DoD’s decision. Unfortunately, the contract award was not based on the merits of the proposals and instead was the result of outside influence that has no place in government procurement. Our commitment to supporting our nation’s military and ensuring that our warfighters and defense partners have access to the best technology at the best price is stronger than ever. We look forward to continuing to support the DoD’s modernization efforts and building solutions that help accomplish their critical missions.”
According to a DoD statement, “The Department intends to seek proposals from a limited number of sources,” adding that “namely the Microsoft Corporation (Microsoft) and Amazon Web Services (AWS), as available market research indicates that these two vendors are the only Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) capable of meeting the Department’s requirements.”