Citing pressure from President Donald Trump as a major factor in the Pentagon’s decision to award its controversial enterprise cloud contract to Microsoft in late October, Amazon Web Services lawyers believe “basic justice requires reevaluation of proposals and a new award decision."
A redacted version of the AWS complaint in its protest of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract alleges that the DoD source selection team made several “egregious” and “unfounded” decisions during the cloud award. Several changes made to the technical requirements throughout the process favored Microsoft, the lawyers argue, while “ignoring AWS’s numerous technical advantages.” Ultimately, Amazon’s lawyers alleged the DoD didn’t comply with the contents of its own RFP.
The complaint, filed in late November in the Court of Federal Claims, goes a step further, trying to tie the decision to several statements made by the president, who has made disparaging comments about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, a paper whose coverage the president doesn’t like.
“These shifts in the DoD evaluators’ assessments of AWS’s proposal, including the significance of AWS’s security advantages, occurred as President Trump increased the intensity of his public attacks against Mr. Bezos, Amazon/AWS, and the Washington Post,” the complaint reads.
“DoD consistently and repeatedly made prejudicial errors, at every step along the way, that systematically favored Microsoft and harmed AWS that grew in magnitude at each stage, and that mirrored the increasing tactics from President Trump to thwart the award of the contract to AWS,” the complaint added a few pages later.
The JEDI cloud is potentially worth $10 billion over 10 years. Elissa Smith, a spokesperson for the DoD, declined to comment on the specific allegations made by Amazon, but offered the following statement:
“This source selection decision was made by an expert team of career public servants and military officers from across the Department of Defense and in accordance with DOD’s normal source-selection process. There were no external influences on the source selection decision. The department is confident in the JEDI award and remains focused on getting this critical capability into the hands of our warfighters as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
AWS concluded its introduction by saying that it was “impossible to shield” DoD officials from the anti-Amazon bias and influence coming from the White House. In a confirmation hearing shortly after the JEDI contract was awarded, DoD CIO Dana Deasy was asked about Trump’s influence on the contract. Deasy answered by carefully saying that the source selection team was not influenced because they were kept anonymous and compartmentalized, but he didn’t deny that Trump had tried to steer other top DoD officials.
On the technical front, AWS lists several ways that its “Nitro architecture,” at the core of its cloud architecture, is unmatched by the rest of industry on security, speed and efficiency, specifically Microsoft’s core technology. The company also listed its ruggedized cloud product deployed currently as a superiority.
AWS, which makes up the majority of Amazon’s annual revenue, also laid out for the court several times where the source selection team erred in evaluating the proposals between the two tech giants, though much of the core details of the capabilities Amazon said it was superior in are redacted. It alleged that the DoD made erroneous evaluations of AWS’ capabilities in secure data transfer; tactical edge; information security and access controls; application and data hosting and portability; management and task order 001; and demonstration.
The complaint also lists several other attempts by industry and Amazon critics to influence the contract, specifically citing a meeting Oracle CEO Safra Catz, who served on Trump’s transition team, had with Trump in which she reportedly advocated against AWS in the cloud. After the RFP was release in the summer of last year, Oracle protested to the Government Accountability Office and later filed a lawsuit after losing the protest. Oracle lost that lawsuit and appealed to the Court of Appeals, where the case currently sits.
As expected, the lawsuit cites several of Trump’s own statements as interference in the contract, specifically a July 18 press conference where he said “We’ll take a very strong look at it” in reference to the JEDI process. The lawsuit also cites tweets from Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., disparaging AWS during the JEDI process.
“President Trump’s intervention casts the errors discussed above in an even harsher light and puts the very integrity of the government procurement process in question,” the complaint reads.
Amazon wants the court to direct the DoD to the reevaluate the proposals and prevent the DoD and Microsoft from moving forward with building the JEDI cloud until there is a new evaluation and award.
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.