Pentagon wants to take the time to get major cloud awards 'right,' CIO says

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John Sherman, DOD's chief information officer, told a congressional committee that while "urgency" is needed to move the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability contract along so is taking the time to "get this right."

The Defense Department wants to get things right when it comes to major cloud purchases, even if that means delays. 

John Sherman, DOD's chief information officer, told lawmakers in submitted testimony for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday that the department was committed to building a multi-vendor, multi-cloud environment. Cloud is a critical cog in the department's overall vision for Joint All Domain Command and Control and digital modernization strategy. But following the failed Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud contract award, Sherman indicated that it's important to "get this right" even if it means delays to DOD's current primary cloud contract – the potentially $9 billion Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability. 

DOD is currently reviewing proposals for the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability from four major cloud service providers: Microsoft, which originally won the JEDI contract, Oracle, Amazon Web Services, and Google "to ensure they meet DoD requirements," which includes providing capabilities across classification levels from unclassified to top secret and out to the tactical edge, Sherman wrote in testimony prepared for a House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems hearing on May 18. 

Contract awards were originally planned for April but have been rescheduled for December, a move Sherman defends. 

"I've personally told the team that while we need to move with a sense of urgency, we also need to get this right and to take the time to perform all the key tasks in the procurement," he wrote. 

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the ranking member on the HASC Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems, said he was "disappointed" in the delays with the cloud contract and was concerned "there is still a long road ahead."

Sherman said during the hearing that awarding the contract before the end of the calendar year "is among my very top priorities" and that DOD had underestimated how much time was needed to review the proposals.  

"We recognize this is critically important … recognizing with the JEDI cancellation and how important this is for the [chief digital and artificial intelligence office] efforts, for joint all domain command and control and so much of what we're doing for war fighting," he said. "I will assure you we're getting after this with alacrity." 

Sherman's comments come as the department is increasingly vocal about its cloud needs from battlefield communications to using artificial intelligence and data analytics to aid in senior-level decision making. 

DOD's appetite and spending around cloud infrastructure and services have grown in recent years alongside overall investment in information technologies. 

For fiscal 2023, the Pentagon has requested a $58 billion budget for IT and cyberspace activities—a  2.5% increase over enacted levels for 2022. That includes about $12.8 billion in cyber and classified IT spending and $45.2 billion for unclassified IT, according to Sherman's testimony. According to the federal IT dashboard, DOD is spending approximately $3.2 billion on major IT procurements for fiscal 2022 and only 73% of the 37 tracked projects are on schedule. 

Cloud spending, from infrastructure to software-as-a-service such as the department's adoption of Microsoft Office 365, jumped almost 20% from fiscal years 2021 to 2022. 

"The Department continues its commitment to cloud computing, and we saw a 19% increase in cloud spend from FY21 to FY22," Sherman wrote. 

"This growth includes continued investment in cloud capabilities for infrastructure, platform, and software as a service, including the Department's transition to DoD365, which is the culmination of a multi-year effort to ensure the Department's unclassified e-mail, voice, video, and chat communication tools are best of breed."

Sherman also indicated that such investments wouldn't slow down, mainly when it came to software and the demands of DOD's modernization strategy released earlier this year. 

"As the DOD increasingly relies on software, the ability to securely and rapidly deliver resilient software capability is a competitive advantage that will define future conflicts," Sherman wrote. 

The Pentagon plans to release an implementation plan, which will sketch ongoing initiatives for its software modernization strategy, in the coming months.