Government contracting can be a dirty business. Right now, a high profile fight over the future of cloud computing at the Department of Defense is being fought out in the halls of Congress and with bureaucrats at the Defense Department. The fight has spilled over into a public fight over the wisdom of giving a massive contract to one provider – Amazon Web Services (AWS).
On October 10, 2018, Wired reported in a story titled How the Pentagon’s Move to the Cloud Landed in the Mud the following:
The Pentagon didn’t mince words in March when introducing the Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative, or JEDI Cloud program: “This program is truly about increasing the lethality of our department and providing the best resources to our men and women in uniform,” the Defense Department’s chief management officer, John H. Gibson II, told industry leaders and academics at a public event. JEDI aims to bring DOD’s computing systems into the 21st century by moving them into the cloud. The Pentagon says that will help it inject artificial intelligence into its data analysis and equip soldiers with real-time data during missions, among other benefits. For the winning bidder, the contract will be lucrative: Bloomberg Government estimates it will be worth $10 billion over the next decade.
The report discusses the many controversies surrounding the awarding of this contract to Amazon, including allegations that three companies, IBM, Oracle and Google have protested the giving of this giant upwards of $10 billion contract to one company. Wired further reported “The Pentagon’s 1,375-page winner-take-all request for proposal for JEDI is a web of restrictions and requirements that some critics allege leaves few viable candidates beyond Amazon,” because the requirements to qualify included a provision on “infrastructure” that only Amazon qualifies, the possession of a “certification to handle the governments most classified information (a status only Amazon currently holds),” the company derives most revenues from non-government sources, and data centers at least “150 miles apart.” All of these provisions point to a request for proposal written for Amazon.
Now comes news that Wikileaks is putting out a map, called the “Amazon Atlas” of all the Amazon data centers further compromising Amazon’s security. Add in the recent report from Bloomberg that China used a tiny chip to infiltrate U.S companies including Amazon and you have yet another reason to diversify the handling of this cloud computing deal to mitigate risk. Amazon may be the king of cloud computing, but the king has some problems and Amazon may not be the best company to handle this giant project that could be worth well in excess of the initial $10 billion over ten year contract.
The bottom line is that Amazon is in hot water right now. They are one of the biggest companies on the planet and they have infiltrated the D.C. Swamp with an army of lobbyists and consultants to lock this massive contract down. Now the media is taking note that there are serious problems with the idea of Amazon housing all the cloud computing of the Defense Department, including costs concerns, security of data issues and cronyism. Thankfully Congress has stepped in the most recent appropriations bill with a mandate that the Defense Department explain to Congress, and the American people, how they drew up this contract and why only one provider makes sense.
Government contracting uses the taxpayer’s dime to pay for government services. At a minimum, Congress and the federal government should not sign away a contract for $10 billion without doing due diligence to make sure that our cash is spent wisely.