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Pentagon Suspends Cloud Contract to Investigate Potential Amazon Favoritism

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U.S. President Donald Trump last month said that he was considering looking into the Pentagon's contract for a cloud service provider, claiming he had received more complaints about the contract than anything else. This week it's been reported that Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who got his job at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) less than two weeks ago, will review accusations of unfairness related to the JEDI contract selection process, as reported by Politico.

At the time, Trump said complaints claimed the contract "wasn't competitively bid." 

"Secretary Esper is committed to ensuring our warfighters have the best capabilities, including Artificial Intelligence, to remain the most lethal force in the world, while safeguarding taxpayer dollars," Elissa Smith, a spokesperson for the DOD, said in a statement on Thursday about why the awarding of the JEDI winner contract will be suspended.

"Keeping his promise to Members of Congress and the American public, Secretary Esper is looking at the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program. No decision will be made on the program until he has completed his examination."

The review is expected to delay the assignation of the single winner for the $10 billion JEDI contract. The Pentagon had expected to award the contract by the end of August.

Amazon Favored?

According to Politico, Amazon’s competitors have taken issue with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meeting privately with Amazon’s high-ranking employees, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2017.

In a statement Thursday, IBM said it "has long raised serious concerns about the structure of the JEDI procurement.” It also believes that the military would be best served by a multi-cloud strategy.

Oracle is a former participant in the JEDI selection competition and has criticized the selection process the most. The company has lobbied both members of Congress and the President in an attempt to convince them that the DOD JEDI competition has been unfair. The vendor also filed a complaint with the General Accountability Office (GAO) and sued the Pentagon. However, both the GAO and the court found that the procurement process has been fair. According to Politico, Trump watched a briefing slide from Oracle's biggest lobbyist that claimed Amazon was favored in the selection process. 

JEDI Criticism

The JEDI contract’s biggest criticism by far has been the fact that it will award such a significant amount of money to one contract only. Many, including most of the companies that were part of the bidding process, have vocalized against the idea of the Pentagon depending on a single contractor. 

The Pentagon says its approach is meant to reduce complexity. However, there are questions around why the Pentagon would need so much integration. After all, does the deployed army really need to access the very same tools that the Pentagon’s office administration staff, for example, needs? Having services and tools highly segregated and isolated from each other could be beneficial from a security standpoint too. 

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.