How a giant Pentagon contract became a political test
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Responding to pressure from President Trump, the Pentagon last week announced a review of the bidding process for a $10 billion contract that has spawned a war among tech giants, said Michael Warren at CNN. The $10 billion contract, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, would give one company the responsibility to move the Department of Defense's computing operations onto the cloud over the course of the next 10 years. It initially involved four bidders: Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle; the Pentagon winnowed the field to Amazon and Microsoft. However, "White House officials in recent weeks have shown Trump a document that alleges a large conspiracy" to award the contract to Amazon that caught Trump's attention. The document "is identical to one created by Oracle's top Washington lobbyist" and "provides a visual representation of a narrative that Oracle has been pushing for months — that a web of individuals inside and outside the Defense Department were greasing the wheels."
"Amazon's foes have Trump's ear," said Naomi Nix at Bloomberg. Amazon had already won a $600 million cloud-services contract from the CIA in 2013, "showing it can manage sensitive government data." But Trump's dislike for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is clearly in play. Trump "has long denounced Bezos in tweets" and blamed him for everything from paying the U.S. Postal Service too little to deliver packages to the coverage he's gotten in the Bezos-owned Washington Post. Under federal rules, Trump can't unilaterally take the contract away from Amazon, but the review could make the Pentagon reopen the bidding process.
Rehashing the bidding on JEDI endangers national security, said Frank Konkel at Nextgov. "JEDI was designed to be the centerpiece to the Pentagon's technological plans to enable more advanced technology" that lets the military more easily analyze "troves of surveillance information collected by sensors, drones, and other aircraft and satellites." Now the Pentagon's plans hang in limbo, putting the military at a severe disadvantage "against adversaries who are 'weaponizing their use of data.'" That includes China, which is investing billions in AI "and does not face bureaucratic or legal challenges and oversight when making technological decisions."
"Why does President Trump suddenly care who wins the Pentagon's $10 billion cloud-storage contract?" asked Patrick Tucker and Frank Konkel at DefenseOne. Trump's disdain for Bezos is well-known. Oracle, by contrast, enjoys a close relationship with him. Oracle's co-CEO, Safra Catz, served on Trump's transition team. Last year she had a private dinner with the president — an opportunity she used to bring up concerns about the JEDI contract. Despite all this, the Pentagon tried to play it fairly. In July, a court ruled against Oracle and upheld the Pentagon's procedures. Defense officials, the court said, "always placed the interests of the war fighter first and have acted without bias, prejudice, or self-interest." Unfortunately, "the same cannot be said of all parties to the debate over JEDI."