Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he has no “firm timeline in mind” for completing a review of the Pentagon’s controversial enterprise cloud procurement and hinted that other factors may delay the program.
Speaking to reporters Sept. 5, Esper said the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General’s review of the Pentagon’s handling of the procurement, potentially worth $10 billion over 10 years, also hinders the future of the program.
“I saw where another DoD IG is doing another review. So in some ways, the timeline isn’t completely mine,” Esper told reporters Sept. 5.
Legislators, including Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have written letters to Esper asking for the award to be delayed until after the inspector general had completed its review. In early August, after pressure from Congress and reported criticism of the program by President Donald Trump, Esper announced he was going to review the contract. At the time, Pentagon spokesperson Elissa Smith said “no decision will be made on the program until he has completed his examination.”
However, Esper emphasized that the Pentagon needed cloud technology to develop better artificial intelligence capabilities, but did not specifically say that JEDI was the solution.
“I do know that cloud-based AI capability is important to the war fighter. I know that. And so we need to move in that direction, and sooner rather than later,” Esper said.
“And the question is, as I said before, is JEDI the right strategy? Was it handled properly? Is it fair to the taxpayer? All those things. That’s kind of what I’m trying to understand."
Last month, Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s chief information officer, said Esper would receive “deep education sessions" to inform him about the program. Esper, formerly the secretary of the Army, gave an indication of the depth of those sessions, telling reporters that he’s taken “about two hours of briefings every week now, for the last two or three weeks.” He also said that he’s been learning about the program on his own time.
“At the same time, as I’ve gone back and I do a lot of my own research, reading on the weekends, you know. I’ve read House report language on this, about JEDI and the concerns they have,” Esper said, referring to House budget documents that left funding for the migration of programs out of the bill.
“I’ve read some independent reports written about it. You know, we get letters from members of Congress about it. On all sides of the issue, right? So it’s kind of ingesting all that.”
Only Microsoft and Amazon Web Services remain in the competition for the contract. Oracle lost a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims, though has appealed.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.