Defense Experts Take Issue With Reps.’ Request for IG Investigation into JEDI

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The Pentagon’s JEDI procurement continues to stir controversy.

A contracting expert said an October letter from two House representatives requesting the Defense Department inspector general investigate the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement is “factually inaccurate” and “based on unsubstantiated stories.”

Reps. Steve Womack, R-Ark., and Tom Cole, R-Okla.—members of the House Appropriations Committee—contended in the letter that the Pentagon’s JEDI contract, valued up to $10 billion over 10 years, could only be met by one contractor. They also called requirements that the winning cloud service provider meet Impact Level 6 security requirements to host secret and top-secret classified data “unnecessary.”

“The letter literally makes no sense. It is absurd,” said Daniel Goure, senior vice president at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit public policy research organization. Goure previously worked in the Defense Department and specializes in national security, defense issues and military capabilities.

“You are going to handle some of the most classified national security materials, but you don’t need to have the [security requirements] in place to handle it? That should be a no-brainer,” Goure said.

The letter refers to the Impact Level 6 security requirement as a “gating requirement or restricting provision” that “along with many others, can only be met by one specific contractor.” The letter never mentions Amazon Web Services, a leading contender for the contract, but AWS is currently the only company that can host classified secret and top-secret data in its cloud platform.

However, the letter appears to conflate gating criteria, which are essentially true/false questions designed to weed out lax bids, with the substantive portion of the procurement where bidding cloud service providers describe their solutions in depth for review.

Totaling hundreds of pages, the JEDI request for proposal is a complex collection of documents and requirements structured in two volumes. Companies that meet the gating requirements in the first volume will have their proposed solutions reviewed by the Pentagon’s contracting experts. The Pentagon does not waste time reviewing solutions that cannot meet gating requirements.

For JEDI, the gating requirement for information security is that cloud service providers currently meet FedRAMP Moderate, a far lower bar than Impact Level 6. Currently, at least nine companies offer infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service offerings that meet or exceed FedRAMP Moderate security requirements, according to FedRAMP.gov. In the substantive portion of the RFP, the Pentagon requires cloud service providers to be able to host secret classified data within 180 days following the award and top-secret data within 270 days following the award.

“The way I read it is, you’ll have 9 months from the award to reach Impact Level 6,” said James Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That shouldn’t be an impediment. If you can’t meet the FedRAMP requirements now and can’t credibly say you can get to Impact Level 6 in 9 months, that doesn’t impede anyone.”

The letter also takes issue with the Defense Department’s controversial decision to award JEDI to a single cloud service provider rather than multiple companies. The letter states the Pentagon has “not provided any adequate explanation as to why they continue to insist on a contract structure that has been widely criticized by Congress and industry.” The single-award issue has been raised in pre-award bid protests filed by Oracle and IBM that are being reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.

However, the Pentagon has justified its decision multiple times, including in documentation contained in the RFP documents. In addition, Defense Department Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy has repeatedly stated his desire for multiple “fit-for-purpose” cloud environments within the Pentagon.

Goure also took issue with the letter’s allegation that improper relationships between Amazon Web Services and the Defense Department also merit investigation. The letter, referencing media reports, alleges “that individuals who held, or hold, high ranking positions in the department have significant connections to the specific contractor.” It also alleges “these individuals, in direct contrast with the Federal Acquisition Regulation and Defense Department Ethics Policy, had involvement in the development of the JEDI program.”

Nextgov, with its sister publication Defense One, reported on allegations in August shopped around to reporters purporting improper actions on behalf of Amazon and Pentagon officials, who all denied the allegations.

“If they’re going to make a complaint, it should be based on substance, not unsubstantiated stories,” Goure said. “Where is the data, where are the facts?”

Lewis said allegations regarding companies competing for defense work “are par for the course in DC,” and all that is new about the JEDI controversy is that the same tactics are trickling into the tech world. Much of the controversy, he said, stems from the Pentagon’s “winner-take-all” approach to JEDI, and said there is a “legitimate debate” around whether large organizations should have a single- or multi-cloud environment.

Rep. Cole and Rep. Womack did not respond to requests for comment from Nextgov.

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