Consequences of Delaying the DEOS Cloud
The Department of Defense’s (DoD) Chief Information Officer (CIO) is on a mission to consolidate most of the Pentagon’s IT systems and services through a series of large and far-reaching cloud computing contracts. The goal is to improve information sharing and empower the warfighter. One of the most critical contracts, the Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS), awarded last August, has already been delayed for over a year due to repeated protests and the government’s decision to take corrective action. The longer DoD is prevented from getting DEOS started, the worse it is for millions of warriors and civilians. A decision is needed at the highest levels in the Pentagon now on a way forward for DEOS.
When it comes to IT and cloud computing, DoD has been a virtual Tower of Babel for a long time. The Services, OSD and defense agencies often went their own way with respect to hardware and software. DoD as a whole now employs some 500 clouds, with some entities contracting for multiple clouds.
This decentralized strategy resulted in many problems for users and limitations on how cloud computing could be employed as a warfighting tool. According to a recent report, this approach "created numerous seams, incongruent baselines, and additional layers of complexity for managing data and services at an enterprise level. Scattering DoD's data across a multitude of clouds further inhibits the ability to access and analyze critical data."
DoD’s Cloud Strategy seeks to create enterprise-wide solutions that will improve the flow of information, enhance decision-making, and reduce costs by consolidating many of these disparate IT systems, applications and clouds. The core of the strategy is three large-scale, multi-year contracts that are intended to enable all of DoD to work together, share information easily and ensure that the warfighter has access to actionable intelligence in a timely manner.
The first, already in place, is called milCloud 2.0. This contract, the second in the series, enables DoD networks to access cloud services, largely based on state-of-the-art commercial offerings, but with the necessary additional cybersecurity measures.
The second, recently awarded, is the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program. JEDI will be DoD's first war cloud. According to Christopher Lynch, the former director of the Defense Digital Service: “JEDI is not about commercial cloud. JEDI is a platform to run the mission of national defense across the world, with access to unlimited compute and storage, or nearly unlimited.”
The third is the Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS). As the name suggests, DEOS is intended to provide all of DoD users worldwide with the best in commercial cloud productivity, collaboration and communications capabilities. This includes access to Office 365. While some components within DoD have cloud computing services accessible by all its 3.5 million personnel, nothing brings together the entire defense enterprise. DEOS offerings will include e-mail, voice/video, content management, information/records management, collaboration, and office productivity software. In essence, DEOS will enable military personnel in each of the Services as well as civilian workers wherever they are to use the same advanced commercial workplace software and applications employed by virtually the entire private sector around the world.
While the purpose of DEOS seems straightforward, actually getting a contract in place and awarded has been anything but. It took more than two years for DoD to write a request for proposal (RFP). This included a number of industry days and several opportunities for potential bidders to submit written comments on the draft document. One reason for the lengthy pre-proposal period was the unique way the contract would be managed. The General Services Administration (GSA) would administer DEOS on behalf of DoD’s Defense Information Security Agency (DISA) and the DoD Chief Technology Officer. Much of a third year was devoted to the proposal period and the evaluation of submissions. Finally, in August 2019, GSA awarded DEOS to General Dynamics Information Technologies (GDIT) through its CSRA LLC subsidiary along with team partners Dell Marketing LLP and Minburn Technology Group. The contract was valued at up to $7.6 billion with a performance period of as much as 10 years.
Three years to award a contract is a lifetime in the world of commercial cloud computing services. But the drawn-out process did not end with the awarding of DEOS to GDIT and its teammates in the summer of 2019. As soon as the contract was awarded, the losing bidder, Perspecta, filed a protest. The protest resulted in a decision by GSA in December 2019, to withdraw its award and issue a revised solicitation to the two companies that had bid on the original request for proposal. But even before GSA could issue a new award, Perspecta filed another protest in March 2020. Once again, GSA had to withdraw its amended RFP with a new, revised request now due out this July.
In essence, the protest process has eaten up an entire year. As it stands now, DEOS will not be awarded until sometime in 2021. Nor is it certain that this is the end of the wrangling. Having been forced to take corrective action RFP twice already, would one really want to bet that GSA has gotten it right this time and that there will not be a new protest? There is also the possibility that a bidder could seek redress in the courts.
The year-long delay in getting DEOS contracted is already harming DoD in a number of ways. Time is money in the cloud computing world, and the cost of providing the services DEOS envisions must inevitably go up. The lack of an enterprise-wide cloud computing has made the sharing of information more difficult, with potential delays in getting a critical decision made and orders communicated to the warfighters. Some DoD components that urgently need to modernize their office applications, improve access to cloud computing, and enhance network security may find it necessary to pursue their own unique solutions. This will complicate implementing a DoD-wide cloud computing architecture and increase the overall cost of implementing DEOS. Finally, the problem of network security only grows worse every day, and stove-piped solutions exacerbate this difficulty.
GSA needs to move expeditiously to resolve any lingering problems associated with the DEOS RFP. One step towards this would be to simplify the scoring criteria to remove any ambiguities and causes for protests. Alternatively, DISA could actually wrap the proposed DEOS effort into its existing milCloud 2.0 contract, which has sufficient ceiling, scope and duration to accept the additional work.
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.