Microsoft and AWS exchange poisoned pen blog posts in latest Pentagon JEDI contract spat

Microsoft and Amazon are at it again as the fight for the Defense Department JEDI contract continues. In a recent series of increasingly acerbic pronouncements, the two companies continue their ongoing spat over the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI contract spoils.

As you may recall (or not), last fall in a surprise move, the DoD selected Microsoft as the winning vendor in the JEDI winner-take-all cloud infrastructure sweepstakes. The presumed winner was always AWS, but when the answer finally came down, it was not them.

To make a very long story short, AWS took exception to the decision and went to court to fight it. Later it was granted a stay of JEDI activities between Microsoft and the DoD, which as you can imagine did not please Microsoft . Since then, the two companies have been battling in PR pronouncements and blog posts trying to get the upper hand in the war for public opinion.

That fight took a hard turn this week when the two companies really went at it in dueling blog posts after Amazon filed its latest protest.

First there was Microsoft with PR exec Frank Shaw taking exception to AWS’s machinations, claiming the company just wants a do-over:

This latest filing – filed with the DoD this time – is another example of Amazon trying to bog down JEDI in complaints, litigation and other delays designed to force a do-over to rescue its failed bid.

Amazon’s Drew Herdner countered in a blog post published this morning:

Recently, Microsoft has published multiple self-righteous and pontificating blog posts that amount to nothing more than misleading noise intended to distract those following the protest.

The bottom line is that Microsoft believes it won the contract fair and square with a more competitive bid, while Amazon believes it should have won on technical superiority, and that there was political interference from the president because he doesn’t like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post.

If you’ve been following this story from the beginning (as I have), you know it has taken a series of twists and turns. It’s had lawsuits, complaints, drama and intrigue. The president has inserted himself into it too. There have been accusations of conflicts of interest. There have been investigations, lawsuits, and more investigations.

Government procurement tends to be pretty bland, but from the start when the DoD chose to use the cutesy Star Wars-driven acronym for this project, it has been anything but. Now it’s come down to two of the world’s largest tech companies exchanging angry blog posts. Sooner or later this is going to end right?


By Ron Miller

DoD Inspector General report finds everything was basically hunky-dory with JEDI cloud contract bid

While controversy has dogged the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI contract since its earliest days, a report by the DoD’s Inspector General’s Office concluded today that, while there were some funky bits and potential conflicts, overall the contract procurement process was fair and legal and  the president did not unduly influence the process in spite of public comments.

There were a number of issues along the way about whether the single contractor award was fair or reasonable, about whether there were was White House influence on the decision, and whether the president wanted to prevent Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, from getting the contract.

There were questions about whether certain personnel, who had been or were about to be Amazon employees, had undue influence on the contents of the RFP or if former Secretary of Defense showed favor to Amazon, which ultimately did not even win the contract, and that one of Mattis’ under secretaries, in fact, owned stock in Microsoft .

It’s worth noting that the report states clearly that it is not looking at the merits of this contract award or whether the correct company won on technical acumen. It was looking at all of these controversial parts came up throughout the process. As the report stated:

“In this report, we do not draw a conclusion regarding whether the DoD appropriately awarded the JEDI Cloud contract to Microsoft rather than Amazon Web Services. We did not assess the merits of the contractors’ proposals or DoD’s technical or price evaluations; rather we reviewed the source selection process and determined that it was in compliance with applicable statutes, policies, and the evaluation process described in the Request for Proposals.”

Although the report indicates that the White House would not cooperate with the investigation into potential bias, the investigators claim they had enough discussions with parties involved with the decision to conclude that there was no undue influence on the White House’s part:

“However, we believe the evidence we received showed that the DoD personnel who evaluated
the contract proposals and awarded Microsoft the JEDI Cloud contract were not pressured regarding their decision on the award of the contract by any DoD leaders more senior to them, who may have communicated with the White House,” the report stated.

The report chose to blame the media instead, at least for partly giving the impression that the White House had influenced the process, stating:

“Yet, these media reports, and the reports of President Trump’s statements about Amazon, ongoing bid protests and “lobbying” by JEDI Cloud competitors, as well as inaccurate media reports about the JEDI Cloud procurement process, may have created the appearance or perception that the contract award process was not fair or unbiased.”

It’s worth noting that we reported that AWS president Andy Jassy made it clear in a press conference at AWS re:Invent in December that the company believed the president’s words had influenced the process.

“I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

As for other points of controversy, such as those previously referenced biases, all were found lacking by the Inspector General. While the earliest complaints from Oracle and others were that Deap Ubhi and Victor Gavin, two individuals involved in drafting the RFP, failed to disclose they were offered jobs by Amazon during that time.

The report concluded that while Ubhi violated ethics rules, his involvement wasn’t substantial enough to influence the RFP (which again, Amazon didn’t win). “However, we concluded that Mr. Ubhi’s brief early involvement in the JEDI Cloud Initiative was not substantial and did not provide any advantage to his prospective employer, Amazon…,” the report stated.

The report found Gavin did not violate any ethics rules in spite of taking a job with Amazon because he had disqualified himself from the process, nor did the report find that former Secretary Mattis had any ethical violations in its investigation.

One final note: Stacy Cummings, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Enablers, who worked for Mattis, owned some stock in Microsoft and did not disclose this. While the report found that was a violation of ethics guidelines, it ultimately concluded this did not unduly influence the award to Microsoft.

While the report is a substantial, 313 pages, it basically concludes that as far as the purview of the Inspector General is concerned, the process was basically conducted in a fair way. The court case, however involving Amazon’s protest of the award to Microsoft continues. And the project remains on hold until that is concluded.

Note: Microsoft and Amazon did not respond to requests from TechCrunch for comments before we published this article. If that changes, we will update accordingly.

Report on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (Jedi) Cloud Procurement Dodig-2020-079 by TechCrunch on Scribd


By Ron Miller

Pentagon asks court for time to reconsider JEDI award to Microsoft

The JEDI contract award process might never be done. Following legal challenges from Amazon after the Pentagon’s massive, $10 billion cloud contract was awarded to Microsoft in October, the Pentagon indicated in court documents last night that it wishes to reconsider the award.

It’s just the latest plot twist in an epic government procurement saga.

Here’s what we know. The Pentagon filing is based on Amazon’s complaints about the technical part of the deal only. Amazon has said that it believes political interference influenced the awarding of the contract. However, the cloud computing giant also believes it beat Microsoft on the technical merits in a majority of instances required in the request for proposals issued by the Pentagon.

In fact, sources told TechCrunch, “AWS’s protest identified evaluation errors, clear deficiencies and unmistakable bias in six of the eight evaluation factors.”

Obviously Amazon was happy to hear this news. “We are pleased that the DoD has acknowledged ‘substantial and legitimate’ issues that affected the JEDI award decision, and that corrective action is necessary,” a spokesperson stated.

“We look forward to complete, fair, and effective corrective action that fully insulates the re-evaluation from political influence and corrects the many issues affecting the initial flawed award.”

The court granted the Pentagon 120 days to review the results again, but indicated it could take longer. In the mean time, the project is at a standstill.

On Friday, the court issued a ruling that Amazon was likely to succeed on its complaint on merit, and that could have been the impetus of this latest action by the Pentagon.

 

While the political influence piece might not be overtly part of this filing, it does lurk in the background. The president has made it clear that he doesn’t like Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. As we wrote last year:

Amazon, for instance, could point to Jim Mattis’ book where he wrote that the president told the then Defense Secretary to “screw Bezos out of that $10 billion contract.” Mattis says he refused, saying he would go by the book, but it certainly leaves the door open to a conflict question.

As we previously reported, AWS CEO Andy Jassy, stated at a press event at AWS re:Invent in December that the company believed there was political bias at play in the decision-making process.

“What I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

We have requested comment from Microsoft and DoD and will update the story should they respond.


By Ron Miller

Judge halts Microsoft work on JEDI contract after AWS request

A sealed order from a judge today has halted the $10 billion, decade long JEDI project in its tracks until AWS’s protest of the contract award to Microsoft can be heard by the court.

The order signed by Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith of the US Court Federal Claims stated:

The United States, by and through the Department of Defense, its officers, agents, and employees, is hereby PRELIMINARILY ENJOINED from proceeding with contract activities under Contract No. HQ0034-20-D-0001, which was awarded under Solicitation No. HQ0034-18-R-0077, until further order of the court.

The judge was not taking this lightly, adding that Amazon would have to put up $42 million bond to cover costs should it prove that the motion was filed wrongfully. Given Amazon’s value as of today is $1.08 trillion, they can probably afford to put up the money, but they must provide it by February 20th, and the court gets to hold the funds until a final determination has been made.

At the end of last month, Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until the court could rule on its protest. In protests of this sort it is not unusual to stop work until a final decision on the award can be made.

This is all part of an ongoing drama that has gone for a couple of years since the DoD put this out to bid. After much wrangling, the DoD awarded the contract to Microsoft at the end of October. Amazon filed suit in November, claiming that the president had unduly influenced the process. Earlier this week, the company filed paperwork to depose the president and Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper.

More to come.


By Ron Miller

Amazon wants to depose president and secretary of Defense as part of JEDI protest

Today, AWS made public its Motion to Supplement the Record in its protest of the JEDI contract decision. As part of that process, the company has announced it wants to depose President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

When Amazon announced at the end of last year that it was protesting the DoD’s decision to award the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI contract to Microsoft, the company made clear that it was not happy with the decision. The company believes that the president steered the contract away from Amazon because of personal political differences with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.

“President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to use his position as President and Commander in Chief to interfere with government functions – including federal procurements – to advance his personal agenda. The preservation of public confidence in the nation’s procurement process requires discovery and supplementation of the administrative record, particularly in light of President Trump’s order to ‘screw Amazon.’ The question is whether the President of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of the DoD to pursue his own personal and political ends,” an AWS spokesperson said in a statement.

This is consistent with public statements the company has been making since the DoD made the surprise decision in October to go with Microsoft. It had been widely believed that Amazon would win the contract, and there was much wrangling and complaining throughout the procurement process that the contract had been designed to favor Amazon, something that the DoD repeatedly denied.

At AWS re:Invent at the end last year, AWS CEO Andy Jassy made it clear he was unhappy with the decision and that he believed the president showed bias. “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal,” Jassy said last year.

Sources say that the DoD gave Amazon a written debriefing after the decision to award the contract to Microsoft, but the company is particularly upset that the department has failed to respond in a timely fashion to requests for additional information and questions, as required by law.


By Ron Miller

In latest JEDI contract drama, AWS files motion to stop work on project

When the Department of Defense finally made a decision in October on the decade long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, it seemed that Microsoft had won. But nothing has been simple about this deal from the earliest days, so  it shouldn’t come as a surprise that last night Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until the court decides on its protest of the DoD’s decision.

The company announced on November 22nd that it had filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims protesting the DoD’s decision to select Microsoft. Last night’s motion is an extension of that move to put the project on hold until the court decides on the merits of the case.

“It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending and it’s important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impacted the JEDI award decision be reviewed. AWS is absolutely committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts and to an expeditious legal process that resolves this matter as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson said in a statement last night.

As we previously reported, the statement echoes sentiments AWS CEO Andy Jassy made at a press event during AWS re:Invent in December:

“I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

This is just the latest turn in a contract procurement process for the ages. It will now be up to the court to decide if the project should stop or not, and beyond that if the decision process was carried out fairly.


By Ron Miller

Even after Microsoft wins, JEDI saga could drag on

The DoD JEDI contract saga came to a thrilling conclusion on Friday afternoon, appropriately enough, with one final plot twist. The presumptive favorite, Amazon did not win, stunning many, including likely the company itself. In the end, Microsoft took home the $10 billion prize.

This contract was filled with drama from the beginning, given the amount of money involved, the length of the contract, the winner-take-all nature of the deal — and the politics. We can’t forget the politics. This was Washington after all and Jeff Bezos does own the Washington Post.

Then there was Oracle’s fury throughout the procurement process. The president got involved in August. The current defense secretary recused himself on Wednesday, two days before the decision came down. It was all just so much drama, even the final decision itself, handed down late Friday afternoon, but it’s unclear if this is the end or just another twist in this ongoing tale.

Some perspective on $10 billion

Before we get too crazy about Microsoft getting a $10 billion, 10 year contract, consider that Amazon earned $9 billion last quarter alone in cloud revenue. Microsoft reported $33 billion last quarter in total revenue. It reported around $11 billion in cloud revenue. Synergy Research pegs the current cloud infrastructure market at well over $100 billion annually (and growing).

What we have here is a contract that’s worth a billion a year. What’s more, it’s possible it might not even be worth that much if the government uses one of its out clauses. The deal is actually initially guaranteed for just two years. Then there are a couple of three-year options, with a final two-year option at the end if gets that far.

The DOD recognized that with the unique nature of this contract, going with a single vendor, it wanted to keep its options open should the tech world shift suddenly under its feet. It didn’t want to be inextricably tied to one company for a decade if that company was suddenly disrupted by someone else. Given the shifting sands of technology, that part of the strategy was a wise one.

Where the value lies

If value of this deal was not the contract itself, it begs the question, why did everyone want it so badly? The $10 billion JEDI deal was simply a point of entree. If you could modernize the DoD’s infrastructure, the argument goes, chances are you could do the same for other areas of the government. It could open the door for Microsoft for a much more lucrative government cloud business.

But it’s not as though Microsoft didn’t already have a lucrative cloud business. In 2016, for example, the company signed a deal worth almost a billion dollars to help move the entire department to Windows 10. Amazon too, has had its share of government contracts, famously landing the $600 million to build the CIA’s private cloud.

But given all the attention to this deal, it always felt a little different from your standard government contract. Just the fact the DoD used a Star Wars reference for the project acronym drew more attention to the project from the start. Therefore, there was some prestige for the winner of this deal, and Microsoft gets bragging rights this morning, while Amazon is left to ponder what the heck happened. As for other companies like Oracle, who knows how they’re feeling about this outcome.

Hell hath no fury like Oracle scorned

Ah yes Oracle; this tale would not be complete without discussing the rage of Oracle throughout the JEDI RFP process. Even before the RFP process started, they were complaining about the procurement process. Co-CEO Safra Catz had dinner with the president to complain that contract process wasn’t fair (not fair!). Then it tried complaining to the Government Accountability Office. They found no issue with the process.

They went to court. The judge dismissed their claims that involved both the procurement process and that a former Amazon employee, who was hired by DoD, was involved in the process of creating the RFP. They claimed that the former employee was proof that the deal was tilted toward Amazon. The judge disagreed and dismissed their complaints.

What Oracle could never admit, was that it simply didn’t have the same cloud chops that Microsoft and Amazon, the two finalists, had. It couldn’t be that they were late to the cloud or had a fraction of the market share that Amazon and Microsoft had. It had to be the process or that someone was boxing them out.

What Microsoft brings to the table

Outside of the politics of this decision (which we will get to shortly), Microsoft brought some experience and tooling the table that certainly gave it some advantage in the selection process. Until we see the reasons for the selections, it’s hard to know exactly why DoD chose Microsoft, but we know a few things.

First of all there are the existing contracts with DoD, including the aforementioned Windows 10 contract and a five year $1.76 billion contract with DoD Intelligence to provide “innovative enterprise services” to the DoD.

Then there is Azure Stack, a portable private cloud stack that the military could stand up anywhere. It could have great utility for missions in the field when communicating with a cloud server could be problematic.

Fool if you think it’s over

So that’s that right? The decision has been made and it’s time to move on. Amazon will go home and lick its wounds. Microsoft gets bragging rights and we’re good. Actually, this might not be where it ends at all.

Amazon for instance could point to Jim Mattis’ book where he wrote that the president told the then Defense Secretary to “screw Bezos out of that $10 billion contract.” Mattis says he refused saying he would go by the book, but it certainly leaves the door open to a conflict question.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and the president isn’t exactly in love with that particular publication. In fact, this week, the White House canceled its subscription and encouraged other government agencies to do so as well.

Then there is the matter of current Defense Secretary Mark Espers suddenly recusing himself last Wednesday afternoon based on a minor point that one of his adult children works at IBM (in a non-cloud consulting job). He claimed he wanted to remove any hint of conflict of interest, but at this point in the process, it was down to Microsoft and Amazon. IBM wasn’t even involved.

If Amazon wanted to protest this decision, it seems it would have much more solid ground to do so than Oracle ever had.

The bottom line is a decision has been made, at least for now, but this process has been rife with controversy from the start, just by the design of the project, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon take some protest action of its own. It seems oddly appropriate.


By Ron Miller

In latest $10B JEDI contract twist, Defense Secretary recuses himself

The JEDI drama never stops. The $10 billion, decade long cloud contract has produced a series of twists and turns since the project was announced in 2018. These include everything from court challenges to the president getting involved to accusations of bias and conflict of interest. It has had all this and more. Today, in the latest plot twist, the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recused himself from the selection process because one of his kids works at a company that was involved earlier in the process.

Several reports name his son, Luke Esper, who has worked at IBM since February. The RFP closed in April and Esper is a Digital Strategy Consultant, according to his LinkedIn page, but given the persistent controversy around this deal, his dad apparently wanted to remove even a hint of impropriety in the selection and review process.

Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman issued an official DoD Cloud update earlier today:

“As you all know, soon after becoming Secretary of Defense in July, Secretary Esper initiated a review of the Department’s cloud computing plans and to the JEDI procurement program. As part of this review process he attended informational briefings to ensure he had a full understanding of the JEDI program and the universe of options available to DoD to meet its cloud computing needs. Although not legally required to, he has removed himself from participating in any decision making following the information meetings, due to his adult son’s employment with one of the original contract applicants. Out of an abundance of caution to avoid any concerns regarding his impartiality, Secretary Esper has delegated decision making concerning the JEDI Cloud program to Deputy Secretary Norquist. The JEDI procurement will continue to move to selection through the normal acquisition process run by career acquisition professionals.”

Perhaps the biggest beef around this contract, which was supposed to be decided in August, has been the winner-take-all nature of the deal. Only one company will eventually walk away a winner, and there was a persistent belief in some quarters that the deal was designed specifically with Amazon in mind. Oracle’s Co-CEO Safra Catz took that concern directly to the president in 2018.

The DoD has repeatedly denied there was any vendor in mind when it created the RFP, and internal Pentagon reviews, courts and a government watchdog agency repeatedly found the procurement process was fair, but the complaints continue. The president got involved in August when he named his then newly appointed defense secretary to look into the JEDI contract procurement process. Now Espers is withdrawing from leading that investigation, and it will be up to others including his Deputy Secretary to finally bring this project over the finish line.

Last April, the DoD named Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists. It’s worth pointing out that both are leaders in Infrastructure as a Service marketshare with around 16% and 33% respectively.

It’s also worth noting that while $10 billion feels like a lot of money, it’s spread out over a 10-year period with lots of possible out clauses built into the deal. To put this deal size into perspective, a September report from Synergy Research found that worldwide combined infrastructure and software service spending in the cloud had already reached $150 billion, a number that is only expected to continue to rise over the next several years as more companies and government agencies like the DoD move more of their workloads to the cloud.

For complete TechCrunch JEDI coverage, see the Pentagon JEDI Contract.


By Ron Miller

Oracle files new appeal over Pentagon’s $10B JEDI cloud contract RFP process

You really have to give Oracle a lot of points for persistence, especially where the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract procurement process is concerned. For more than a year, the company has been complaining  across every legal and government channel it can think of. In spite of every attempt to find some issue with the process, it has failed every time. That did not stop it today from filing a fresh appeal of last month’s federal court decision that found against the company.

Oracle refuses to go quietly into that good night, not when there are $10 billion federal dollars on the line, and today the company announced it was appealing Federal Claims Court Senior Judge Eric Bruggink’s decision. This time they are going back to that old chestnut that the single-award nature of the JEDI procurement process is illegal:

“The Court of Federal Claims opinion in the JEDI bid protest describes the JEDI procurement as unlawful, notwithstanding dismissal of the protest solely on the legal technicality of Oracle’s purported lack of standing. Federal procurement laws specifically bar single award procurements such as JEDI absent satisfying specific, mandatory requirements, and the Court in its opinion clearly found DoD did not satisfy these requirements. The opinion also acknowledges that the procurement suffers from many significant conflicts of interest. These conflicts violate the law and undermine the public trust. As a threshold matter, we believe that the determination of no standing is wrong as a matter of law, and the very analysis in the opinion compels a determination that the procurement was unlawful on several grounds,” Oracle’s General Counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement.

In December, Oracle sued the government for $10 billion, at the time focusing mostly on a perceived conflict of interest involving a former Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi. He worked for Amazon prior to joining the DOD, where he worked on a committee of people writing the RFP requirements, and then returned to Amazon later. The DOD investigated this issue twice, and found no evidence he violated federal conflict of interest of laws.

The court ultimately agreed with the DOD’s finding last month, ruling that Oracle had failed to provide evidence of a conflict, or that it had impact on the procurement process. Judge Bruggink wrote at the time:

We conclude as well that the contracting officer’s findings that an organizational conflict of interest does not exist and that individual conflicts of interest did not impact the procurement, were not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the administrative record is therefore denied.

The company started complaining and cajoling even before the JEDI RFP process started. The Washington Post reported that Oracle’s Safra Catz met with the president in April, 2018 to complain that the process was unfairly stacked in favor of Amazon, which happens to be the cloud market share leader by a significant margin, with more than double that of its next closest rival, Microsoft.

Later, the company filed an appeal with the Government Accountability Office, which found no issue with the RFP process. The DOD, which has insisted all along there was no conflict in the process, also did in an internal investigation and found no wrong-doing.

The president got involved last month when he ordered Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper to look into the idea that, once again, the process has favored Amazon. That investigation is ongoing. The DOD did name two finalists, Amazon and Microsoft, in April, but has yet to name the winner as the protests, court cases and investigations continue.

The controversy in part involves the nature of the contract itself. It is potentially a decade-long undertaking to build the cloud infrastructure for the DOD, involves the award of a single vendor (although there are several opt-out clauses throughout the term of the contract) and involves $10 billion and the potential for much more government work. That every tech company is salivating for that contract is hardly surprising, but Oracle alone continues to protest at every turn.

The winner was supposed to be announced this month, but with the Pentagon investigation in progress, and another court case underway, it could be some time before we hear who the winner is.


By Ron Miller

President throws latest wrench in $10B JEDI cloud contract selection process

The $10 billion, decade long JEDI cloud contract drama continues. It’s a process that has been dogged by complaints, regulatory oversight and court cases. Throughout the months long selection process, the Pentagon has repeatedly denied accusations that the contract was somehow written to make Amazon a favored vendor, but today the Washington Post reports President Trump has asked the newly appointed Defense Secretary, Mark T. Esper to examine the process because of concerns over that very matter.

The Defense Department called for bids last year for a $10 billion, decade long contract. From the beginning Oracle in particular complained that the process favored Amazon. Even before the RFP process began Oracle executive Safra Catz took her concerns directly to the president, but at that time he did not intervene. Later, the company filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office, which ruled that the procurement process was fair.

Finally, the company took the case to court alleging that a person involved in defining the selection process had a conflict of interest, due to being an employee at Amazon before joining the DoD. That case was dismissed last month.

In April, the DoD named Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists, and the winner was finally expected to be named some time this month. It appeared that the we were close to the finish line, but now that the president has intervened at the 11th hour, it’s impossible to know what the outcome will be.

What we do know is that this is a pivotal project for the DoD, which is aimed at modernizing the U.S. military for the next decade and beyond. The fact is that the two finalists made perfect sense. They are the two market leaders, and each has tools, technologies and experience working with sensitive government contracts.

Amazon is the market leader with 33% marketshare. Microsoft is number two with 16%. Number three vendor, Google dropped out before the RFP process began. It is unclear at this point whether the president’s intervention will have any influence on the final decision, but the Washington Post reports it is an unusual departure from government procurement procedures.


By Ron Miller

Judge dismisses Oracle lawsuit over $10B Pentagon JEDI cloud contract

Oracle has been complaining about the procurement process around the Pentagon’s $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract, even before the DoD opened requests for proposals last year. It went so far as to file a lawsuit in December, claiming a potential conflict of interest on the part of a procurement team member. Today, that case was dismissed in federal court.

In dismissing the case, Federal Claims Court Senior Judge Eric Bruggink ruled that the company had failed to prove a conflict in the procurement process, something the DOD’s own internal audits found in two separate investigations. Judge Bruggink ultimately agreed with the DoD’s findings.

“We conclude as well that the contracting officer’s findings that an organizational conflict of interest does not exist and that individual conflicts of interest did not impact the procurement, were not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the administrative record is therefore denied,” Judge Bruggink wrote in his order.

The company previously had filed a failed protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which also ruled that the procurement process was fair and didn’t favor any particular vendor. Oracle had claimed that the process was designed to favor cloud market leader AWS.

It’s worth noting that the employee in question was a former AWS employee. AWS joined the lawsuit as part of the legal process, stating at the time in the legal motion, “Oracle’s Complaint specifically alleges conflicts of interest involving AWS. Thus, AWS has direct and substantial economic interests at stake in this case, and its disposition clearly could impair those interests.”

Today’s ruling opens the door for the announcement of a winner of the $10 billion contract, as early as next month. The DoD previously announced that it had chosen Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists for the winner-take-all bid.


By Ron Miller

Much to Oracle’s chagrin, Pentagon names Microsoft and Amazon as $10B JEDI cloud contract finalists

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced two finalists in the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract process — and Oracle was not one of them. In spite of lawsuits, official protests and even back-channel complaining to the president, the two finalists are Microsoft and and Amazon.

“After evaluating all of the proposals received, the Department of Defense has made a competitive range determination for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud request for proposals, in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. The two companies within the competitive range will participate further in the procurement process,” Elissa Smith, DoD spokesperson for Public Affairs Operations told TechCrunch. She added that those two finalists were in fact Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS, the cloud computing arm of Amazon).

This contract procurement process has caught the attention of the cloud computing market for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a large amount of money, but perhaps the biggest reason it had cloud companies going nuts was that it is a winner-take-all proposition.

It is important to keep in mind that whether it’s Microsoft or Amazon who is ultimately chosen for this contract, the winner may never see $10 billion, and it may not last 10 years because there are a number of points where the DoD could back out, but the idea of a single winner has been irksome for participants in the process from the start.

Over the course of the last year, Google dropped out of the running, while IBM and Oracle have been complaining to anyone who will listen that the contract unfairly favored Amazon. Others have questioned the wisdom of even going with with a single-vendor approach. Even at $10 billion, an astronomical sum to be sure, we have pointed out that in the scheme of the cloud business, it’s not all that much money, but there is more at stake here than money.

There is a belief here that the winner could have an upper hand in other government contracts, that this is an entree into a much bigger pot of money. After all, if you are building the cloud for the Department of Defense and preparing it for a modern approach to computing in a highly secure way, you would be in a pretty good position to argue for other contracts with similar requirements.

In the end, in spite of the protests of the other companies involved, the Pentagon probably got this right. The two finalists are the most qualified to carry out the contract’s requirements. They are the top two cloud infrastructure vendors on the market, although Microsoft is far behind with around 13 or 14 percent marketshare. Amazon is far head with around 33 percent, according to several companies who track such things.

Microsoft in particular has tools and resources that would be very appealing, especially Azure Stack, a mini private version of Azure, that you can stand up anywhere, an approach that would have great appeal to the military, but both companies have experience with government contracts, and both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table. It will undoubtedly be a tough decision.

In February, the contract drama took yet another turn when the department reported it was investigating new evidence of conflict of interest by a former Amazon employee, who was involved in the RFP process for a time before returning to the company. Smith reports that the department found no such conflict, but there could be some ethical violations they are looking into.

“The department’s investigation has determined that there is no adverse impact on the integrity of the acquisition process. However, the investigation also uncovered potential ethical violations, which have been further referred to DOD IG,” Smith explained.

The DoD is supposed to announce the winner this month, but the drama has continued non-stop.


By Ron Miller

New conflict evidence surfaces in JEDI cloud contract procurement process

For months, the drama has been steady in the Pentagon’s decade long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract procurement process. This week the plot thickened when the DOD reported that it has found new evidence of a possible conflict of interest, and has reopened its internal investigation into the matter.

“DOD can confirm that new information not previously provided to DOD has emerged related to potential conflicts of interest. As a result of this new information, DOD is continuing to investigate these potential conflicts,” Elissa Smith, Department of Defense spokesperson told TechCrunch.

It’s not clear what this new information is about, but the Wall Street Journal reported this week that senior federal judge Eric Bruggink of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ordered that the lawsuit filed by Oracle in December would be put on hold to allow the DOD to investigate further.

From the start of the DOD RFP process, there have been complaints that the process itself was designed to favor Amazon, and that were possible conflicts of interest on the part of DOD personnel. The DOD’s position throughout has been that it is an open process and that an investigation found no bearing for the conflict charges. Something forced the department to rethink that position this week.

Oracle in particular has been a vocal critic of the process. Even before the RFP was officially opened, it was claiming that the process unfairly favored Amazon. In the court case, it made the conflict part clearer, claiming that an ex-Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi had influence over the process, a charge that Amazon denied when it joined the case to defend itself. Four weeks ago something changed when a single line in a court filing suggested that Ubhi’s involvement may have been more problematic than the DOD previously believed.

At the time, I wrote:

In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.

And Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch:

“During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations,” Babb told TechCrunch.

Whether the new evidence that DOD has found is referring to Ubhi’s rehiring by Amazon or not, is not clear at the moment, but it has clearly found new evidence it wants to explore in this case, and that has been enough to put the Oracle lawsuit on hold.

Oracle’s court case is the latest in a series of actions designed to protest the entire JEDI procurement process. The Washington Post reported last spring that co-CEO Safra Catz complained directly to the president. The company later filed a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which it lost in November when the department’s investigation found no evidence of conflict. It finally made a federal case out of it when it filed suit in federal court in December, accusing the government of an unfair procurement process and a conflict on the part of Ubhi.

The cloud deal itself is what is at the root of this spectacle. It’s a 10-year contract worth up to $10 billion to handle the DOD’s cloud business — and it’s a winner-take-all proposition. There are three out clauses, which means it might never reach that number of years or dollars, but it is lucrative enough, and could possibly provide inroads for other government contracts, that every cloud company wants to win this.

The RFP process closed in October and the final decision on vendor selection is supposed to happen in April. It is unclear whether this latest development will delay that decision.


By Ron Miller

Pentagon stands by finding of no conflict of interest in JEDI RFP process

A line in a new court filing by the Department of Defense suggests that it might reopen investigation into a possible conflict of interest interest in the JEDI contract RFP process involving a former AWS employee. The story has attracted a great deal of attention in major news publications including the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, but a Pentagon spokesperson has told TechCrunch that nothing has changed.

In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.

When asked about this specific passage, Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb made clear the conflict had been investigated earlier and that Ubhi had recused himself from the process. “During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations,” Babb told TechCrunch.

She repeated that statement when asked specifically about the language in the DoD’s filing. Ubhi did work at Amazon prior to joining the DoD and returned to work for them after he left.

The Department of Defense’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract process has attracted a lot of attention, and not just for the size of the deal. The Pentagon has said this will be a winner-take-all affair. Oracle and IBM have filed formal complaints and Oracle filed a lawsuit in December alleging among other things that there was a conflict of interest by Ubhi, and that they believed the single-vendor approach was designed to favor AWS. The Pentagon has denied these allegations.

The DoD completed the RFP process at the end of October and is expected to choose the winning vendor in April.


By Ron Miller

Microsoft continues to build government security credentials ahead of JEDI decision

While the DoD is in the process of reviewing the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract RFPs (assuming the work continues during the government shutdown), Microsoft continues to build up its federal government security bona fides, regardless.

Today the company announced it has achieved the highest level of federal government clearance for the Outlook mobile app, allowing US Government Community Cloud (GCC) High and Department of Defense employees to use the mobile app. This is on top of FedRamp compliance, the company achieved last year.

“To meet the high level of government security and compliance requirements, we updated the Outlook mobile architecture so that it establishes a direct connection between the Outlook mobile app and the compliant Exchange Online backend services using a native Microsoft sync technology and removes middle tier services,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the update.

The update will allows these highly security-conscious employees to access some of the more recent updates to Outlook Mobile such as the ability to add a comment when canceling an event.

This is in line with government security updates the company made last year. While none of these changes are specifically designed to help win the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, they certainly help make a case for Microsoft from a technology standpoint

As Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure, Julia White stated in a blog post last year, which we covered, “Moving forward, we are simplifying our approach to regulatory compliance for federal agencies, so that our government customers can gain access to innovation more rapidly,” White wrote at the time. The Outlook Mobile release is clearly in line with that.

Today’s announcement comes after the Pentagon announced just last week that it has awarded Microsoft a separate large contract for $1.7 billion. This involves providing Microsoft Enterprise Services for the Department of Defense (DoD), Coast Guard and the intelligence community, according to a statement from DoD.

All of this comes ahead of decision on the massive $10 billion, winner-take-all cloud contract. Final RFPs were submitted in October and the DoD is expected to make a decision in April. The process has not been without controversy with Oracle and IBM submitting a formal protests even before the RFP deadline — and more recently, Oracle filing a lawsuit alleging the contract terms violate federal procurement laws. Oracle has been particularly concerned that the contract was designed to favor Amazon, a point the DoD has repeatedly denied.


By Ron Miller