Aug
01
2019
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President throws latest wrench in $10B JEDI cloud contract selection process

The $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract drama continues. It’s a process that has been dogged by complaints, regulatory oversight and court cases. Throughout the months-long selection process, the Pentagon has repeatedly denied accusations that the contract was somehow written to make Amazon a favored vendor, but today The Washington Post reports President Trump has asked the newly appointed Defense Secretary, Mark T. Esper, to examine the process because of concerns over that very matter.

The Defense Department called for bids last year for a $10 billion, decade-long contract. From the beginning, Oracle in particular complained that the process favored Amazon. Even before the RFP process began Oracle executive Safra Catz took her concerns directly to the president, but at that time he did not intervene. Later, the company filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office, which ruled that the procurement process was fair.

Finally, the company took the case to court, alleging that a person involved in defining the selection process had a conflict of interest, due to being an employee at Amazon before joining the DoD. That case was dismissed last month.

In April, the DoD named Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists, and the winner was finally expected to be named some time this month. It appeared that we were close to the finish line, but now that the president has intervened at the 11th hour, it’s impossible to know what the outcome will be.

What we do know is that this is a pivotal project for the DoD, which is aimed at modernizing the U.S. military for the next decade and beyond. The fact is that the two finalists made perfect sense. They are the two market leaders, and each has tools, technologies and experience working with sensitive government contracts.

Amazon is the market leader, with 33% market share. Microsoft is No. 2, with 16%. The No. 3 vendor, Google, dropped out before the RFP process began. It is unclear at this point whether the president’s intervention will have any influence on the final decision, but The Washington Post reports it is an unusual departure from government procurement procedures.

Jul
12
2019
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Judge dismisses Oracle lawsuit over $10B Pentagon JEDI cloud contract

Oracle has been complaining about the procurement process around the Pentagon’s $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract, even before the DoD opened requests for proposals last year. It went so far as to file a lawsuit in December, claiming a potential conflict of interest on the part of a procurement team member. Today, that case was dismissed in federal court.

In dismissing the case, Federal Claims Court Senior Judge Eric Bruggink ruled that the company had failed to prove a conflict in the procurement process, something the DOD’s own internal audits found in two separate investigations. Judge Bruggink ultimately agreed with the DoD’s findings:

We conclude as well that the contracting officer’s findings that an organizational conflict of interest does not exist and that individual conflicts of interest did not impact the procurement, were not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the administrative record is therefore denied.

The company previously had filed a failed protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which also ruled that the procurement process was fair and didn’t favor any particular vendor. Oracle had claimed that the process was designed to favor cloud market leader AWS.

It’s worth noting that the employee in question was a former AWS employee. AWS joined the lawsuit as part of the legal process, stating at the time in the legal motion, “Oracle’s Complaint specifically alleges conflicts of interest involving AWS. Thus, AWS has direct and substantial economic interests at stake in this case, and its disposition clearly could impair those interests.”

Today’s ruling opens the door for the announcement of a winner of the $10 billion contract, as early as next month. The DoD previously announced that it had chosen Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists for the winner-take-all bid.

Apr
11
2019
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Much to Oracle’s chagrin, Pentagon names Microsoft and Amazon as $10B JEDI cloud contract finalists

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced two finalists in the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract process — and Oracle was not one of them. In spite of lawsuits, official protests and even back-channel complaining to the president, the two finalists are Microsoft and Amazon.

“After evaluating all of the proposals received, the Department of Defense has made a competitive range determination for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud request for proposals, in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. The two companies within the competitive range will participate further in the procurement process,” Elissa Smith, DoD spokesperson for Public Affairs Operations told TechCrunch. She added that those two finalists were in fact Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS, the cloud computing arm of Amazon).

This contract procurement process has caught the attention of the cloud computing market for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a large amount of money, but perhaps the biggest reason it had cloud companies going nuts was that it is a winner-take-all proposition.

It is important to keep in mind that whether it’s Microsoft or Amazon that is ultimately chosen for this contract, the winner may never see $10 billion, and it may not last 10 years, because there are a number of points where the DoD could back out —  but the idea of a single winner has been irksome for participants in the process from the start.

Over the course of the last year, Google dropped out of the running, while IBM and Oracle have been complaining to anyone who will listen that the contract unfairly favored Amazon. Others have questioned the wisdom of even going with a single-vendor approach. Even at $10 billion, an astronomical sum to be sure, we have pointed out that in the scheme of the cloud business, it’s not all that much money — but there is more at stake here than money.

There is a belief here that the winner could have an upper hand in other government contracts, that this is an entrée into a much bigger pot of money. After all, if you are building the cloud for the Department of Defense and preparing it for a modern approach to computing in a highly secure way, you would be in a pretty good position to argue for other contracts with similar requirements.

In the end, in spite of the protests of the other companies involved, the Pentagon probably got this right. The two finalists are the most qualified to carry out the contract’s requirements. They are the top two cloud infrastructure vendors on the market, although Microsoft is far behind with around 13 or 14 percent market share. Amazon is far head, with around 33 percent, according to several companies that track such things.

Microsoft in particular has tools and resources that would be very appealing, especially Azure Stack — a mini private version of Azure, that you can stand up anywhere, an approach that would have great appeal to the military — but both companies have experience with government contracts, and both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table. It will undoubtedly be a tough decision.

In February, the contract drama took yet another turn when the department reported it was investigating new evidence of conflict of interest by a former Amazon employee who was involved in the RFP process for a time before returning to the company. Smith reports that the department found no such conflict, but there could be some ethical violations they are looking into.

“The department’s investigation has determined that there is no adverse impact on the integrity of the acquisition process. However, the investigation also uncovered potential ethical violations, which have been further referred to DOD IG,” Smith explained.

The DoD is supposed to announce the winner this month, but the drama has continued non-stop.

Feb
20
2019
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New conflict evidence surfaces in JEDI cloud contract procurement process

For months, the drama has been steady in the Pentagon’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract procurement process. This week the plot thickened when the DOD reported that it has found new evidence of a possible conflict of interest, and has reopened its internal investigation into the matter.

“DOD can confirm that new information not previously provided to DOD has emerged related to potential conflicts of interest. As a result of this new information, DOD is continuing to investigate these potential conflicts,” Elissa Smith, Department of Defense spokesperson told TechCrunch.

It’s not clear what this new information is about, but The Wall Street Journal reported this week that senior federal judge Eric Bruggink of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ordered that the lawsuit filed by Oracle in December would be put on hold to allow the DOD to investigate further.

From the start of the DOD RFP process, there have been complaints that the process itself was designed to favor Amazon, and that were possible conflicts of interest on the part of DOD personnel. The DOD’s position throughout has been that it is an open process and that an investigation found no bearing for the conflict charges. Something forced the department to rethink that position this week.

Oracle in particular has been a vocal critic of the process. Even before the RFP was officially opened, it was claiming that the process unfairly favored Amazon. In the court case, it made the conflict part clearer, claiming that an ex-Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi had influence over the process, a charge that Amazon denied when it joined the case to defend itself. Four weeks ago something changed when a single line in a court filing suggested that Ubhi’s involvement may have been more problematic than the DOD previously believed.

At the time, I wrote:

In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.

And Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch:

During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations.

Whether the new evidence that DOD has found is referring to Ubhi’s rehiring by Amazon or not is not clear at the moment, but it has clearly found new evidence it wants to explore in this case, and that has been enough to put the Oracle lawsuit on hold.

Oracle’s court case is the latest in a series of actions designed to protest the entire JEDI procurement process. The Washington Post reported last spring that co-CEO Safra Catz complained directly to the president. The company later filed a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which it lost in November when the department’s investigation found no evidence of conflict. It finally made a federal case out of it when it filed suit in federal court in December, accusing the government of an unfair procurement process and a conflict on the part of Ubhi.

The cloud deal itself is what is at the root of this spectacle. It’s a 10-year contract worth up to $10 billion to handle the DOD’s cloud business — and it’s a winner-take-all proposition. There are three out clauses, which means it might never reach that number of years or dollars, but it is lucrative enough, and could possibly provide inroads for other government contracts, that every cloud company wants to win this.

The RFP process closed in October and the final decision on vendor selection is supposed to happen in April. It is unclear whether this latest development will delay that decision.

Jan
25
2019
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Pentagon stands by finding of no conflict of interest in JEDI RFP process

A line in a new court filing by the Department of Defense suggests that it might reopen the investigation into a possible conflict of interest in the JEDI contract RFP process involving a former AWS employee. The story has attracted a great deal of attention in major news publications, including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, but a Pentagon spokesperson has told TechCrunch that nothing has changed.

In the document, filed with the court on Wednesday, the government’s legal representatives sought to outline its legal arguments in the case. The line that attracted so much attention stated, “Now that Amazon has submitted a proposal, the contracting officer is considering whether Amazon’s re-hiring Mr. Ubhi creates an OCI that cannot be avoided, mitigated, or neutralized.” OCI stands for Organizational Conflict of Interest in DoD lingo.

When asked about this specific passage, Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb made clear the conflict had been investigated earlier and that Ubhi had recused himself from the process. “During his employment with DDS, Mr. Deap Ubhi recused himself from work related to the JEDI contract. DOD has investigated this issue, and we have determined that Mr. Ubhi complied with all necessary laws and regulations,” Babb told TechCrunch.

She repeated that statement when asked specifically about the language in the DoD’s filing. Ubhi did work at Amazon prior to joining the DoD and returned to work for them after he left.

The Department of Defense’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract process has attracted a lot of attention, and not just for the size of the deal. The Pentagon has said this will be a winner-take-all affair. Oracle and IBM have filed formal complaints and Oracle filed a lawsuit in December alleging, among other things, that there was a conflict of interest by Ubhi, and that they believed the single-vendor approach was designed to favor AWS. The Pentagon has denied these allegations.

The DoD completed the RFP process at the end of October and is expected to choose the winning vendor in April.

Jan
15
2019
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Microsoft continues to build government security credentials ahead of JEDI decision

While the DoD is in the process of reviewing the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract RFPs (assuming the work continues during the government shutdown), Microsoft continues to build up its federal government security bona fides, regardless.

Today the company announced it has achieved the highest level of federal government clearance for the Outlook mobile app, allowing US Government Community Cloud (GCC) High and Department of Defense employees to use the mobile app. This is on top of FedRamp compliance, the company achieved last year.

“To meet the high level of government security and compliance requirements, we updated the Outlook mobile architecture so that it establishes a direct connection between the Outlook mobile app and the compliant Exchange Online backend services using a native Microsoft sync technology and removes middle tier services,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the update.

The update will allows these highly security-conscious employees to access some of the more recent updates to Outlook Mobile such as the ability to add a comment when canceling an event.

This is in line with government security updates the company made last year. While none of these changes are specifically designed to help win the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, they certainly help make a case for Microsoft from a technology standpoint

As Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure, Julia White stated in a blog post last year, which we covered, “Moving forward, we are simplifying our approach to regulatory compliance for federal agencies, so that our government customers can gain access to innovation more rapidly,” White wrote at the time. The Outlook Mobile release is clearly in line with that.

Today’s announcement comes after the Pentagon announced just last week that it has awarded Microsoft a separate large contract for $1.7 billion. This involves providing Microsoft Enterprise Services for the Department of Defense (DoD), Coast Guard and the intelligence community, according to a statement from DoD.

All of this comes ahead of decision on the massive $10 billion, winner-take-all cloud contract. Final RFPs were submitted in October and the DoD is expected to make a decision in April. The process has not been without controversy with Oracle and IBM submitting a formal protests even before the RFP deadline — and more recently, Oracle filing a lawsuit alleging the contract terms violate federal procurement laws. Oracle has been particularly concerned that the contract was designed to favor Amazon, a point the DoD has repeatedly denied.

Dec
17
2018
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AWS signs on to defend itself in Oracle’s JEDI RFP lawsuit against US government

Just when you didn’t think there could be any more drama over the Pentagon’s decade-long, $10 billion JEDI contract RFP, the plot thickened again last week when Amazon Web Services (AWS) joined the U.S. government as a defendant in Oracle’s lawsuit over the Pentagon’s handling of the contract RFP process.

Earlier this month, Oracle filed a complaint in the United States Court of Federal Claims alleging that the JEDI RFP process unfairly favored Amazon, that the single-vendor decision (which won’t be made until April) violates federal procurement rules and that two members of the JEDI team had a conflict of interest because of previous affiliations with Amazon Web Services.

AWS filed paperwork to join the case, stating that because of the claims being made by Oracle, it had a direct stake in the outcome. “Oracle’s Complaint specifically alleges conflicts of interest involving AWS. Thus, AWS has direct and substantial economic interests at stake in this case, and its disposition clearly could impair those interests,” the company’s attorneys stated in the motion.

The Motion to Intervene as a Defendant was approved by United States Court of Federal Claims Senior Judge, Eric G. Bruggink the same day.

Oracle filed a complaint alleging essentially the same issues with the Government Accountability Office earlier this year, but the GAO found no wrong-doing in a ruling last month. Oracle decided to take the case to court, where it has had some high-profile wins in recent years, including its case against Google over its use of the Java APIs.

The JEDI contract RFP has attracted attention for the length, the amount of money at stake and the single-vendor selection decision. This is a contract that every cloud company badly wants to have. Oracle has made it clear it’s not giving up without a fight, while Amazon Web Services intends to defend itself against Oracle’s claims.

Dec
12
2018
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Oracle is suing the US government over $10B Pentagon JEDI cloud contract process

Oracle filed suit in federal court last week alleging yet again that the decade-long $10 billion Pentagon JEDI contract with its single-vendor award is unfair and illegal. The complaint, which has been sealed at Oracle’s request, is available in the public record with redactions.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same argument the company used when it filed a similar complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last August. The GAO ruled against Oracle last month stating, “…the Defense Department’s decision to pursue a single-award approach to obtain these cloud services is consistent with applicable statutes (and regulations) because the agency reasonably determined that a single-award approach is in the government’s best interests for various reasons, including national security concerns, as the statute allows.”

That hasn’t stopped Oracle from trying one more time, this time filing suit in the United States Court of Federal Claims this week, alleging pretty much the same thing it did with the GAO, that the process was unfair and violated federal procurement law.

Oracle Senior Vice President Ken Glueck reiterated this point in a statement to TechCrunch. “The technology industry is innovating around next generation cloud at an unprecedented pace and JEDI as currently envisioned virtually assures DoD will be locked into legacy cloud for a decade or more. The single-award approach is contrary to well established procurement requirements and is out of sync with industry’s multi-cloud strategy, which promotes constant competition, fosters rapid innovation and lowers prices,” he said, echoing the language in the complaint.

The JEDI contract process is about determining the cloud strategy for the Department of Defense for the next decade, but it’s important to point out that even though it is framed as a 10-year contract, it has been designed with several opt-out points for DOD with an initial two-year option, two three-year options and a final two-year option, leaving open the possibility it might never go the full 10 years.

Oracle has complained for months that it believes the contract has been written to favor the industry leader, Amazon Web Services. Company co-CEO Safra Catz even complained directly to the president in April, before the RFP process even started. IBM filed a similar protest in October, citing many of the same arguments. Oracle’s federal court complaint filing cites the IBM complaint and language from other bidders including, Google (which has since withdrawn from the process) and Microsoft that supports their point that a multi-vendor solution would make more sense.

The Department of Justice, which represents the U.S. government in the complaint, declined to comment.

The DOD also indicated it wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, but in September spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch that the contract RFP was not written to favor any vendor in advance. “The JEDI Cloud final RFP reflects the unique and critical needs of DOD, employing the best practices of competitive pricing and security. No vendors have been pre-selected,” she said at the time.

That hasn’t stopped Oracle from continually complaining about the process to whomever would listen. This time they have literally made a federal case out of it. The lawsuit is only the latest move by the company. It’s worth pointing out that the RFP process closed in October and a winner won’t be chosen until April. In other words, they appear to be assuming they will lose before the vendor selection process is even completed.

Nov
14
2018
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Government denies Oracle’s protest of $10B Pentagon JEDI cloud RFP

When Oracle filed a protest in August with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI RFP process was unfair, it probably had little chance of succeeding. Today, the GAO turned away the protest.

The JEDI contract has been set up as a winner-take-all affair. With $10 billion on the table, there has been much teeth-gnashing and complaining that the deck has been stacked to favor one vendor, Amazon. The Pentagon has firmly denied this, but it hasn’t stopped Oracle and IBM from complaining loudly from the get-go that there were problems with the way the RFP was set up.

At least with the Oracle complaint, the GAO put that idea firmly to rest today. For starters, the GAO made it clear that the winner-take-all approach was just fine, stating “…the Defense Department’s decision to pursue a single-award approach to obtain these cloud services is consistent with applicable statutes (and regulations) because the agency reasonably determined that a single-award approach is in the government’s best interests for various reasons, including national security concerns, as the statute allows.”

The statement went on to say that the GAO didn’t find that the Pentagon favored any vendor during the RFP period. “GAO’s decision also concludes that the Defense Department provided reasonable support for all of the solicitation provisions that Oracle contended exceeded the agency’s needs.” Finally, the GAO found no evidence of conflict of interest on the DOD’s part as Oracle had suggested.

Oracle has been unhappy since the start of this process, going so far as having co-CEO Safra Catz steer her complaints directly to the president in a meeting last April long before the RFP period had even opened.

As I wrote in an article in September, Oracle was not the only vendor to believe that Amazon was the favorite:

The belief amongst the various other players, is that Amazon is in the driver’s seat for this bid, possibly because they delivered a $600 million cloud contract for the government in 2013, standing up a private cloud for the CIA. It was a big deal back in the day on a couple of levels. First of all, it was the first large-scale example of an intelligence agency using a public cloud provider. And of course the amount of money was pretty impressive for the time, not $10 billion impressive, but a nice contract.

Regardless, the RFP submission period ended last month. The Pentagon is expected to choose the vendor in April 2019, Oracle’s protest notwithstanding.

Oct
26
2018
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Microsoft has no problem taking the $10B JEDI cloud contract if it wins

The Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud contract bidding process has drawn a lot of attention. Earlier this month, Google withdrew, claiming ethical considerations. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos responded in an interview at Wired25 that he thinks that it’s a mistake for big tech companies to turn their back on the U.S. military. Microsoft president Brad Smith agrees.

In a blog post today, he made clear that Microsoft intends to be a bidder in government/military contracts, even if some Microsoft employees have a problem with it. While acknowledging the ethical considerations of today’s most advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, and the ways they could be abused, he explicitly stated that Microsoft will continue to work with the government and the military.

“First, we believe in the strong defense of the United States and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft,” Smith wrote in the blog post.

To that end, the company wants to win that JEDI cloud contract, something it has acknowledged from the start, even while criticizing the winner-take-all nature of the deal. In the blog post, Smith cited the JEDI contract as an example of the company’s desire to work closely with the U.S. government.

“Recently Microsoft bid on an important defense project. It’s the DOD’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud project – or “JEDI” – which will re-engineer the Defense Department’s end-to-end IT infrastructure, from the Pentagon to field-level support of the country’s servicemen and women. The contract has not been awarded but it’s an example of the kind of work we are committed to doing,” he wrote.

He went on, much like Bezos, to wrap his company’s philosophy in patriotic rhetoric, rather than about winning lucrative contracts. “We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs. They will have access to the best technology that we create,” Smith wrote.

Microsoft president Brad Smith. Photo: Riccardo Savi/Getty Images

Throughout the piece, Smith continued to walk a fine line between patriotic duty to support the U.S. military, while carefully conceding that there will be different opinions in a large and diverse company population (some of whom aren’t U.S. citizens). Ultimately, he believes that it’s critical that tech companies be included in the conversation when the government uses advanced technologies.

“But we can’t expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation,” Smith wrote.

Like Bezos, he made it clear that the company leadership is going to continue to pursue contracts like JEDI, whether it’s out of a sense of duty or economic practicality or a little of both — whether employees agree or not.

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