DOD details its plans for JEDI cloud contract

The timeline for a department-wide commercial cloud solution is aggressive, but Pentagon officials say deeper in-house expertise and better internal cooperation can get them to an award this year.

Defense Digital Service Director Chris Lynch speaks during the JEDI Cloud Industry Day in Arlington, Va., on March 7, 2018. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

Defense Digital Service director Chris Lynch tells vendors about a planned DOD cloud acquisition. (Photo credit: E.J. Hersom/Department of Defense)

The Defense Department shed some light on its much-anticipated Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud acquisition at a March 7 industry day, and outlined a surprisingly short timeframe for finalizing a multi-billion, single-award contract.

DOD officials hope to have a final request for proposals out by early May, and to make an award before the end of the September. Chanda Brooks, the contracting officer for JEDI, stressed that the timeline was "notional," but was equally emphatic that DOD is intent on moving quickly.

The morning event was high on enthusiasm from government officials, including acting DOD CIO Essye Miller, DOD Chief Management Officer John Gibson and Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord, but scant on specifics. Additional details came around mid-day, when the draft RFP was posted.

In keeping with the tight schedule, comments on that draft are due by March 21.

Several industry representatives at the event said they were skeptical that seven months was sufficent for such a massive acquisition. Brooks, however, said the in-house expertise that DOD now has in the Defense Digital Service and other components changes the equation.

"Often times, there are procurements where the technical requirement is ill-defined," Brooks said. "That is not this case with the JEDI procurement. … We are able to access advanced technical expertise that the government typically does not have access to."

Navy Capt. David McAllister, program manager for DOD's Strategic Capabilities Office, also stressed that cross-component collaboration. SCO already is working with DDS and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental on plans for JEDI implementation.

Streamlined security and infrastructure management, migration of core DOD services, data management and advanced analytics should all come online in fiscal 2019, he said. More sophisticated capabilities will be added in 2020.

“The three offices are really orchestrating a variety of projects,” McAllister said. “Over the course of several years we’re going to try to fully validate the capabilities within JEDI and see what we can achieve to deliver warfighting advantage and back-office efficiencies.”

JEDI will cover Infrastrucure as a Service and Platform as a Service offerings, both non-classified and (eventually) classified.

Brooks emphasized that DOD needs technical feedback from industry over the next two weeks, with the hope that more input earlier on in the process could help the contract come together faster.

“We believe we have compiled a very good foundation for the JEDI cloud infrastructure procurement," she said. "However, we do need industry feedback on several elements of the draft solicitation.”

Industry discussion following the event also focused on whether smaller cloud entities could meet the DOD’s needs. The solicitation lays out a demanding "gate evaluation criteria" that proposers must meet to even be considered in the competitive stage of the procurement.

Lord and Brooks stressed that the single-award solicitation is a fully open and competitive process, where “multiple sources are capable of satisfying the DOD’s technical requirements.”

The JEDI effort is "being held to a higher standard and must more scrutiny than other contracts of similar size," Lord said.

But not everyone was convinced. John Weiler, executive director of the IT Acquisition Advisory Council, a public-private partnership, told FCW the presentation seemed very geared toward Amazon, making solicitation a no-contest competition.

"The articulation of the requirement and how this thing would be delivered is specific to Amazon. It is not a truly competitive procurement," he said.

DOD officials tried to address those concerns in a media call following the event. Tim Van Name, deputy director for the Defense Digital Service, told reporters the JEDI solicitation was about the proposal that best fits DOD’s needs. "We have no favorite," he said.

DDS General Counsel Sharon Woods added that while the contract would be a single award, that did not mean it would go to a single vendor. DOD is not telling JEDI proposers how to assemble teams, she said.

When pressed further on how many firms the DOD team believes could technically deliver on the solicitation, Van Name said, "We don't know -- and we won't know until we receive proposals from industry."