Pentagon IG pushes back on Republicans’ criticisms of JEDI review

(DOD / Lisa Ferdinando)

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The Pentagon’s acting inspector general has defended his office’s lengthy review of the contentious Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract after it received criticism from a Republican lawmaker.

Department of Defense acting IG Sean O’Donnell sent a letter in mid-September to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, pushing back on the senator’s recent allegations that the Office of the IG conducted a tainted review in of the now-canceled $10 billion JEDI cloud contract.

The OIG launched the JEDI review in 2019 to explore the legality of issuing a single award for such a large contract and whether there was corruption in how the contract was awarded. The watchdog issued a 300-page report in April 2020, finding ultimately that personnel who evaluated proposals for the contract were not pressured by the White House to award the deal to Microsoft over Amazon and that the use of a single-award contract was legal.

More than a year after the report’s release and after the DOD decided to scrap the JEDI acquisition in July, Grassley in August sent O’Donnell’s office an inflammatory letter based mostly on a media report that claims that the IG “withheld evidence and mischaracterized key elements of its report” and selectively edited email interactions of key players in the IG’s investigation.

O’Donnell rebutted in his letter that “the information forming the basis of your correspondence lacks important context and objectivity.” He then gave explicit detail of how, contrary to Grassley’s allegations, the IG acted with integrity and independence “following the evidence wherever it led” and ultimately producing “an exhaustive analysis of what occurred before, during and after the JEDI cloud procurement process.”

On the matter of being selective about what portions of evidence were released in the final report, O’Donnell wrote: “To quote or include in our report every part of every piece of evidence we reviewed would have made our report especially unwieldy and, frankly, not a work of independent and objective oversight.”

One of the key figures whose emails Grassley argues the OIG “selectively edited” for the final report is Sally Donnelly. Throughout the JEDI acquisition, many critics of the contract have alleged Donnelly was a mastermind of sorts in Amazon’s corner who pushed for the firm to win the contract.

But O’Donnell said that just wasn’t true and questions the point of such an argument when Amazon didn’t win the contract.

“Even if we were to assume, for argument’s sake, that Ms. Donnelly had demonstrated some kind of preferential treatment towards Amazon to the exclusion of other companies, the DoD OIG did not find substantial evidence that Ms. Donnelly had any role, let alone that she was personally or substantially involved in, shaping or developing the JEDI Cloud acquisition …” the letter states.  “And even if we were to assume, again for argument’s sake, that Ms. Donnelly had been substantially involved and had overtly advocated for Amazon, the DoD ultimately awarded the contract to Microsoft, not Amazon.”

Grassley is the latest but not the only Republican to cry foul on the JEDI review. In May, Reps. Steve Womack of Arkansas and Chris Stewart of Utah sent a similar letter to DOD Secretary Lloyd Austin and O’Donnell asking for “immediate access” to all records associated with the DOD IG’s investigation of the JEDI procurement.

And, in the process of marking up the House version of the 2022 defense authorization bill, Republicans, led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, tried but failed to pass an amendment that would require the IG to submit all the evidence it collected and reviewed for the JEDI report.

Oracle, too, is not letting go of its JEDI grievances. Earlier this week, the company petitioned the Supreme Court to keep its lawsuit against the cloud contract alive, even though it has been canceled.

With the termination of the JEDI contract, the DOD launched a multi-cloud replacement contract called the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, through which it intends to seek proposals from Microsoft, Amazon and any other hyperscale cloud provider that meet DOD’s security needs.

Roll Call first reported O’Donnell’s rebuttal letter to Grassley.

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Chuck Grassley, Congress, Department of Defense (DOD), DOD IG, Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), Office of the Inspector General, Sean O’Donnell
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