Politics in the cloud

Sens. Mark Warner and Jack Reed want assurances from Defense Secretary Mark Esper that politics isn't impinging on the Pentagon's ability to run its cloud acquisition program.

Sen. Mark Warner (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), shown here, and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) are asking questions about DOD's new reviews of the JEDI acquisition.

Two senior Senate Democrats urged the secretary of defense to "resist political pressures" when it comes to the Pentagon's $10 billion, 10-year single-award cloud contract.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote to defense chief Mark Esper with concerns that his plan to review the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program was driven by political considerations and potentially could compromise the integrity of the federal procurement process.

"The importance of political noninterference is especially important in the context of Department of Defense procurements, where procurement decisions must focus on cost, quality, performance and other considerations directly related to promoting our national security in an increasingly complex global environment," Reed and Warner wrote in their Aug. 5 letter to Esper.

Esper announced plans to review the JEDI cloud procurement at a press conference on July 24, his first full day as defense secretary. A press statement released Aug. 1 indicated that no award would be made in the program until after Esper's review.

The promised review comes in the wake of an unsuccessful court challenge by Oracle looking for a redo of the JEDI solicitation. Oracle alleged that the solicitation was tainted by conflict of interest -- several individuals who worked on the procurement had ties to presumed frontrunner Amazon Web Services -- and that the size and scope of the requirements demanded a multi-award contract.

Complaints from Oracle and others have reached the White House.

"So, I’m getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon. They’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid," President Donald Trump said July 18 in response to a reporter's question.

"And I will be asking them to look at it very closely to see what’s going on because I have had very few things where there’s been such complaining," Trump said. "Not only complaining from the media -- or at least asking questions about it from the media -- but complaining from different companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM. Great companies are complaining about it. So we’re going to take a look at it. We’ll take a very strong look at it."

With Trump's comments and his well-documented animus toward Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in the background, the lawmakers want to know what is prompting Esper's review. Specifically, Reed and Warner want to know why Esper is taking a second look at JEDI, whether "anyone outside of the Department of Defense direct[ed] you to delay or cancel the JEDI program or the award of this contract" and whether DOD has new information about the program that hasn't been considered by oversight bodies or the courts.

 "We appreciate your desire to review this initiative as you take on your new role as Secretary, but we urge you to resist political pressures that might negatively affect the implementation of sound acquisition practices and of the cloud strategy," the lawmakers wrote.

 Senior defense officials have repeatedly stated the need for a "warfighter" cloud to deliver data and intelligence to troops in combat and to offer connectivity in the event that cable-linked communications fail.

Lt. Gen. Bradford Shwedo, the CIO for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attested in a court filing to the "urgency and importance" of the JEDI cloud acquisition.

"JEDI Cloud is critical to safeguarding our technological advantage against those that seek to harm our nation," Shwedo said.