2019 in review: The Pentagon’s JEDI cloud wars

President Donald J. Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stand during the Full Honors Welcome Ceremony for Esper at the Pentagon on July 25, 2019. (DOD / Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

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Yet another year came and went with headlines dominated by the Pentagon’s JEDI saga.

While the Department of Defense finally issued an award for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure to bring an enterprise commercial cloud capability to the military, continued lawsuits mired the department’s hopes for swiftly implementing the program.

As 2019 began, Oracle’s protest of the single-award JEDI acquisition raged on, stalling the Department of Defense’s path to a contract and implementation. The company contended that DOD tailored the contract for cloud computing giant Amazon Web Services and that there was a conflict of interest between the Pentagon and AWS.

But by the year’s end, that protest would fall to second fiddle as, in an ironic turn, AWS issued its own bid protest of the acquisition after losing the JEDI competition to Microsoft. And now, the pre-implementation of JEDI, which has been in progress for an excess of two years, will continue into 2020.

Oracle’s protest

As it stands currently, Oracle has taken its protest of DOD’s handling of the JEDI acquisition all the way to a federal appeals court after falling short with the Government Accountability Office and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Though the company hasn’t been successful in its litigation against the DOD, the court filings did slow the department’s progress somewhat in awarding the contract and put the acquisition under the spotlight of some of the most important leaders in Washington. Over the summer, President Trump told reporters that he was going to “take a very strong look at” the acquisition after receiving what he called “tremendous complaints” about the competition for the procurement in relation to Amazon.

Subsequently, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, new to the role, ignited his own internal review of the JEDI contract after receiving complaints from members of Congress.

In the meantime, top DOD IT officials were making their case for why the military needed this enterprise cloud capability as soon as possible.

“Delaying implementation of the JEDI Cloud will negatively impact our efforts to plan, fight, and win in communications compromised environments, and will negatively impact our efforts to improve force readiness and hampers our critical efforts in AI,” Lt. Gen. Bradford Shwedo, CIO of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in June. “This position has been forwarded and is supported by all of the U.S. Combatant Commands. Our adversaries are employing these technologies; our warfighters need this capability now.”

And while Esper was conducting his review of JEDI, the acquisition team behind it was still at work evaluating proposals from remaining contenders Microsoft and AWS.

“One thing I’ve been consistent on from the beginning is, we’ve got to get this right. So we are not going to rush to a decision,” DOD CIO Dana Deasy said in August. “We’re going to spend whatever time that the evaluation team needs to spend, to make sure we are picking the best technical solution at the right price with the right delivery criteria that will meet the needs of the warfighter.”

On Oct. 22, Esper, short of finishing his review of JEDI, recused himself from anything to do with the acquisition because his son works for IBM, one of the companies that initially bid for the contract but didn’t meet its initial gate criteria. He delegated his role in any decision-making around JEDI to Deputy Secretary David Norquist while the acquisition continued “to move to selection through the normal acquisition process run by career acquisition professionals,” according to a DOD spokesperson.

The timing of those moves was odd, though. It would later be revealed in AWS’s protest that DOD had already awarded the contract to Microsoft privately prior to Esper’s recusal.

Microsoft wins and AWS strikes back

Just days after Esper’s announced recusal, the moment that had been two years in the making finally came: DOD awarded JEDI. Microsoft beat out AWS for the up-to $10 billion contract.

“We brought our best efforts to the rigorous JEDI evaluation process and appreciate that DOD has chosen Microsoft,” Toni Townes-Whitley, president of  U.S. regulated industries for Microsoft, said in a statement. “We are proud that we are an integral partner in DOD’s overall mission cloud strategy.”

AWS, on the other hand, was “surprised” by the decision. “A detailed assessment purely on the comparative offerings clearly lead to a different conclusion,” a company spokesman said.

Amazon filed a protest of the award decision and evaluation in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in early November.

That protest was filed under seal but was eventually released with redactions in December. AWS claims in its litigation that overt political pressure from the top of the Trump administration led to “egregious errors” in the Pentagon’s evaluation of bids for the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract and award to Microsoft. The company cites Trump’s summer press gaggle in which he referenced a JEDI review and other public and private statements as evidence of the president’s slant against the company and claims that it pervaded the DOD’s decision.

“What is most remarkable here is that consistent with the expressed desires of its Commander in Chief — DOD consistently and repeatedly made prejudicial errors, at every step along the way, that systematically favored Microsoft and harmed AWS — errors that grew in magnitude at each stage, and that mirrored the increasing tactics from President Trump to thwart the award of the contract to AWS,” reads the complaint. “The most plausible inference from these facts is simply this: under escalating and overt pressure from President Trump, DOD departed from the rules of procurement and complied — consciously or subconsciously — with its Commander in Chief’s expressed desire to reject AWS’s superior bid.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy, at the company’s annual developer’s conference, said he couldn’t understand how his company could lose to Microsoft. “I think if you do a truly objective, detailed, apples-to-apples comparison of the platforms, you don’t end up in the spot where that decision is made,” Jassy told reporters at the re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. “Most of our customers tell us that we’re a couple years ahead, both with regard to functionality and maturity. And I think that you end up with a situation with significant political interference.”

What’s next?

Despite AWS’s protest, Microsoft and DOD are cleared to do initial planning for implementation of the contract. The two parties kicked off discussions about work under the contract Dec. 11-13. CEO Satya Nadella and members of the Microsoft Azure and public sector teams met with DOD CIO Dana Deasy and other senior defense IT leaders.

But until Feb. 11, DOD and Microsoft have agreed to hold off on work under JEDI, with the exception of “initial preparatory activities,” to let the federal claims court settle AWS’s dispute. Therefore, the court and parties involved will likely work to move quickly through the protest to prevent any further stay in work under the contract.

On top of that, Oracle’s protest in federal appeals court is still hanging around.


More 2019 in review:

A tense homestretch for 2020 census prep
2019 in review: A chief data officer in every agency
Agencies embrace RPA — AI less so
CDM program continues to wait for nod from Congress
Building more tech capacity on Capitol Hill

-In this Story-

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Cloud, Dana Deasy, Department of Defense (DOD), Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), Mark Esper, Microsoft, Oracle
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