Pentagon Continues to Move Forward on Transformative Cloud Contract

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Sometimes, no news really is good news. This is the case with the Pentagon’s plan for its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud program. Proposals from many of the big cloud providers – Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM – were delivered to the Department of Defense (DoD) in early October 2018 with an award decision expected around April of this year. Despite efforts on several fronts to short-circuit the contracting process using protests, lawsuits and derogatory dossiers, the Pentagon has remained steadfast in its decision to award a single contract.  

Even before the proposals were submitted, several of the companies that eventually participated were objecting to the way the competition had been structured. A major complaint is the program’s duration and value (up to 10 years and $10 billion if all options are executed). Another is that Amazon Web Services (AWS) exercised undue influence over the way the request for proposal was structured.

JEDI is not DoD's first foray into cloud computing. The Pentagon already is a multi-cloud environment. There are some 500 clouds in operation across DoD’s various offices, agencies and departments. Some of these are quite long and involve expenditures of billions of dollars. One of the largest of these is the single contractor-built milCloud, managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). It provides “infrastructure as a service solution that leverages a combination of mature commercial off-the-shelf and government-developed technology to deliver cloud services tailored to needs of the DoD.” DISA has released a request for proposal for the multi-year, multi-billion dollar, single source award Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS) contract. So confident is DISA in this effort that it has turned it over to the General Services Administration's Schedule 70 vehicle, with DISA doing the implementation and deployment. Other government agencies and departments will have access to DEOS along with DoD.

So, what is different about JEDI?  Simply put, this is the Pentagon’s first major effort to create a highly-classified, cloud-based military command, control, communications and intelligence system to support the warfighter all the way to the tactical edge. The Pentagon’s goal of transforming its warfighting capacity by implementing concepts such as the Navy’s Distributed Operation, the Army’s Multi-Domain Battle and the Air Force’s Multi-Domain Command and Control will require the speed, flexibility and data management capabilities only possible in the cloud. According to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan: “Accelerating DoD’s adoption of cloud computing technologies is critical to maintaining our military’s technological advantage.”

The Pentagon is not approaching JEDI as the answer to all their cloud needs for all time. Nor will it obviate requirements for additional cloud programs. A Pentagon spokesperson explained the strategy driving JEDI this way: “JEDI Cloud is a pathfinder effort to help DOD learn how to put in place an enterprise cloud solution and a critical first step that enables data-driven decision making and allows DOD to take full advantage of applications and data resources.” Even if fully exercised, JEDI will account for no more than 20 percent of DoD’s cloud requirements.

The JEDI program generated an unusual amount of public debate, even rancor, for a services contract. After all, this is not a contract to build the next fighter, bomber, armored fighting vehicle, tank or warship. Even in Washington in 2019, the drama surrounding JEDI garners attention. There have been pre-proposal protests, lawsuits, and calls for Congressional inquiries. Several protests by Oracle and IBM, two companies that are believed to have submitted bids for the JEDI program, were dismissed by the Government Accountability Office. So too were several suits filed in federal court by Oracle. Several suits are still pending but have very little chance of success.

From here, the effort to undermine the JEDI competition took a weird turn. A salacious dossier generated by a Washington-based private investigating agency made its appearance in news circles. It makes wild and unsubstantiated accusations of inappropriate business dealings between Amazon and individuals in the Pentagon. Topping that were ridiculous news stories suggesting collusion between AWS and shadowy Russian characters. The headline of an article in Defense One about the unusual environment surrounding the JEDI program characterizes the situation perfectly: "Someone is Waging a Secret War to Undermine the Pentagon's huge Cloud Contract."

The Pentagon might be forgiven if it had flinched under these multiple assaults. Instead, it has taken all the right steps. First, it has stuck to its guns regarding JEDI being a single award contract, providing a thorough and convincing rationale for this decision. Second, it has treated all the companies equally and fairly, including those that have been vocal critics of their approach. Third, DoD thoroughly investigated accusations of improper influence in the proposal process and concluded that there was no basis to substantiate the accusation.

Defense Department leadership, starting with Acting Secretary Pat Shanahan but also including Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord, Director of the Defense Digital Service Chris Lynch and the Department’s CIO, Dana Deasy, have been singularly focused on moving the Pentagon and the warfighters to the cloud. This is an example of defense acquisition done right.

Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full bio here.

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