Pentagon watchdog clears Microsoft’s $10 billion cloud-computing win over Amazon

Joanna Estrada
April 16, 2020

A government watchdog agency said Wednesday the Pentagon's process for awarding a highly lucrative cloud computing contract to Microsoft was in line with legal and government purchasing standards.

Despite our investigative authorities and our assurances to safeguard the information, DoD OGC officials restated that they did not control the privilege, and that the White House had not authorized the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, or other DoD officials to disclose to the DoD OIG communications between the White House and DoD officials related to the JEDI contract.

But the report also cited limitations by the White House in cooperating with the inquiry.

Known as Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, the cloud computing contract is meant to give the military better access to data and technology from remote locations. The contract is worth up to $10 billion over 10 years.

JEDI was meant to give the USA military a powerful, centralized computing system run by a commercial tech company so it could improve deployed troops' access to intelligence and speed up the Pentagon's adoption of artificial intelligence.

The Pentagon's declaration of victory comes about a month after it told a court handling a challenge that it wished "to reconsider its award decision in response to the other technical challenges presented by AWS", it said in a court filing, referring to Amazon Web Services. Work on the project has been halted as the lawsuit proceeds.

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.

However, the IG was unable to determine whether the White House improperly influenced the decision because the White House asserted its "presidential communications privilege" to prevent the matter from being fully investigated. "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.

"Therefore, we could not definitively determine the full extent or nature of interactions that administration officials had, or may have had, with senior DoD officials regarding the JEDI Cloud procurement", the report continued.

"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 inspector general's office said. It's a blow to Amazon, which claims that Trump's personal animus toward the company and its founder, Jeff Bezos, improperly influenced the procurement process. Bezos owns The Washington Post, a news outlet often criticized by Trump.

"Essentially what we learned from the IG report is that while there was no successful effort to influence the award, it appears that they tried given the fact that they invoked the privilege", said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight.

"Executive privilege is created to protect national security and the president's candid conversations with close advisers, not to block agency officials from discussing a large government contract that does not call for direct presidential decision-making", the group's top lawyer, Scott Amey, said in a statement.

"This report should finally close the door on the media and corporate-driven attacks on the career procurement officials who have been working tirelessly to get the much needed JEDI cloud computing environment into the hands of our frontline warfighters while continuing to protect American taxpayers", Carver said.

But the report said that, given the employee's minimal contributions to the JEDI procurement process, the ethical misconduct did not influence the outcome.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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