The Department of Defense’s massive, multibillion-dollar cloud effort once again came under fire because of the agency’s intent to award the contract to a single offeror, with one industry group arguing such an intent may violate federal procurement law.
In a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees originally reported by NextGov, the IT Alliance for Public Sector called on Congress to make reports on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract publicly available and questioned whether the DoD’s single-source intent was the best approach for the contract.
“Deployment of a single cloud conflicts with established best practices and industry trends in the commercial marketplace, as well as current law and regulation, which calls for the award of multiple task or delivery order contracts to the maximum extent practicable,” ITAPS Senior Vice President Trey Hodgkins wrote in the letter.
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The Federal Acquisition Regulations system, however, gives a great deal of power to contracting officers in determining when a contract would be better suited to a sole-source award. In particular, DoD may rely on allowances in the FAR for when “projected task orders are so integrally related that only a single contractor can reasonably perform the work” and “multiple awards would not be in the best interests of the government” to justify a sole-source approach.
However, the FAR also requires contracting officers to consider “ability to maintain competition among the awardees,” in contract decision-making. Industry groups have voiced the opinion that the current formulation of the JEDI contract actively prevents competition.
The Coalition for Government Procurement said in November 2017 that the widespread needs of the JEDI contract, coupled with the intention to award the contract to a single offeror, favors a select group of companies, such as Amazon and Google, while keeping smaller providers out of the market.
According to the ITAPS letter, limiting the potential offerors to such a small group of companies will eliminate the cost-saving benefits provided by more widespread marketplace competition.
DoD officials have argued that a single award for the JEDI contract is the most effective way of meeting the department’s needs, adding that the JEDI contract only represents about 20 percent of DoD cloud needs overall.
Jay Gibson, chief management officer at the Pentagon, speaking to Federal Times’ sister publication Defense News in his first one-on-one interview since taking office, said that he hadn’t seen the ITAPS letter specifically, but the JEDI contract would be a fair and open competition.
“As you can imagine, we know this is sensitive, so we’ve been hyper sensitive as we’ve looked at it from every angle, including the legal execution for the contract and how we structured it. So we feel good that what we’re doing is the right way to do it,” said Gibson.
The last opportunity for industry feedback on the JEDI contract closed April 30, 2018, with a final solicitation expected to drop sometime in May.
Yet even if the solicitation and eventual award proceed on schedule, it is very likely that, should the award go to an industry heavy-hitter like Amazon, there will be protests from other companies in the market.
Aaron Mehta of Defense News contributed to this report from Washington.