Amazon challenges Pentagon’s award of $10B JEDI cloud contract to rival Microsoft

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AWS CEO Andy Jassy delivers the keynote at the 2018 reInvent conference. (Amazon Web Services Photo)

Amazon is protesting the Defense Department’s surprise decision to award a lucrative cloud contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, to Microsoft last month. An Amazon spokesperson said Thursday that the company has filed paperwork challenging the decision.

The procurement process for JEDI — a $10 billion, 10-year endeavor to build the military’s war cloud – has been mired in controversy from the start. In this latest chapter, Amazon is accusing the Defense Department of succumbing to political pressure from President Donald Trump.

Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud arm, was long seen as the frontrunner for JEDI. But last month DoD selected Microsoft’s Azure for the project in what many viewed as an upset.

An Amazon spokesperson explained the company’s reasoning in a statement Thursday:

“AWS is uniquely experienced and qualified to provide the critical technology the U.S. military needs, and remains committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts. We also believe it’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence. Numerous aspects of the JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias- and it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified.”

The Pentagon. (Flickr Photo / David B. Gleason cc2.0)

The Pentagon was expected to announce a winner over the summer, but the timeline was delayed after Trump expressed concerns about the fairness of the process. It was an issue raised by Oracle, an early JEDI hopeful, which accused the DoD of creating a process tailor-made for Amazon by opting to go with one cloud vendor instead of several.

A ProPublica investigation in August revealed how close Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos have been to the project since its inception.

What is JEDI? Explaining the $10B military cloud contract that Microsoft just won over Amazon

In July, Trump told reporters that he was “getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon … they’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid.” A few weeks later, his defense secretary, Mark Esper, launched a review of the procurement process, delaying the conclusion of the contest. Esper later recused himself from the review because of his son’s work for IBM.

A new book, written by a former aide to Defense Secretary James Mattis, alleges that Trump called Mattis in the summer of 2018 and directed him to “screw Amazon” out of the contract.

The president is a frequent critic of Amazon for a range of issues. Trump has taken aim at Bezos because he owns The Washington Post. Trump has also pushed the U.S. Postal Service to get a better deal from Amazon.

The Federal Times and Wall Street Journal first reported on Amazon’s challenge to the JEDI award.

Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy explained the decision to employees at a Nov. 14 meeting.

“I think when you have a sitting president who’s willing to publicly show his disdain for a company and the leader of a company, it’s very difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make an objective decision without fear of reprisal,” Jassy said in a video of the meeting obtained by The Federal Times.

The JEDI project will migrate the Defense Department’s IT infrastructure to the cloud, creating a globally available and responsive network, and providing ongoing monitoring of issues like bugs and breaches. The system must be fortified with enhanced cyber defenses and robust encryption.

One of the Pentagon’s chief goals for JEDI is the ability to apply modern computing techniques, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, to its defense operations.

Amazon and Microsoft, both based in the Seattle area, are the leading U.S. cloud providers and fierce rivals in a growing industry as more and more organizations migrate their businesses to the cloud.

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