Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, July 27, 2021

AWS Wants to Question Trump, DoD on JEDI Bias 

The Pentagon cloud wars continue to escalate as Amazon Web Services expands it protest of a $10 billion DoD cloud contract to rival Microsoft with a court filing seeking to depose President Trump, along with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other current and former Pentagon officials.

At issue is alleged bias in the Defense Department’s selection last October of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Azure as the sole cloud provider under the hotly-contested Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract. Initially seen as the frontrunner based on earlier contracts with U.S. spy agencies, AWS (NASDAQ: AMZN) alleged in a court filing the Trump administration unduly influenced the JEDI contract award in favor of Microsoft.

AWS launched its protest last November, claiming DoD’s evaluation process was flawed and biased. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed in a recent memoir that Trump instructed him to “screw Amazon” out of the JEDI contract.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which has sparred frequently with the Trump administration.

In a court filing on Monday (Feb. 10), Amazon alleged that “President Donald J. Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to use his position as President and Commander in Chief to disrupt the orderly administration of government functions—including federal procurements—to advance personal motives.”

Citing the president’s long-time animosity toward Bezos and Amazon, the cloud giant further alleged that Trump “made it crystal clear—both to the public at large, and by clear implication to senior DoD officials (including his political appointees)—that he did not want his administration to award the [JEDI] contract to AWS.”

Hence, company attorneys petitioned the U.S. Court of Federal Claims which is hearing the bid protest, to allow it to depose President Trump, Defense Secretary Esper, who replaced Mattis last summer. The company said it wants to question Trump about his communications with Mattis as well as any interactions with Microsoft or Oracle (NYSE: ORCL), which earlier protested the JEDI procurement process.

Oracle’s protest initially focused on DoD’s decision to select a single cloud vendor, arguing a single-source award would violate U.S. acquisition rules.

AWS also is seeking to depose Esper and DoD CIO Dana Deasy about their involvement in the JEDI procurement. Specifically, company attorneys want to question Esper about his communications with the president about the JEDI contract and, according to its court filing, “the circumstances around [Esper’s] decision to recuse himself from the source selection process” in late October 2019.

Deasy was nominated to his Pentagon post in July 2019, around the time Trump made public statements saying he wanted to take a “hard look” at the Pentagon cloud procurement due to complaints about AWS.

The company also wants to question Mattis about the JEDI bid process and “presidential efforts to influence the procurement.”

Among the answers being sought by Amazon is confirmation of Esper’s “central role in injecting President Trump’s bias against AWS into DoD’s decision-making process,” according to its court filing.

"The preservation of public confidence in the nation’s procurement process requires discovery and supplementation of the administrative record, particularly in light of President Trump’s order to ‘screw Amazon'," the company added in a statement. "The question is whether the President of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of the DoD to pursue his own personal and political ends.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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