Like many in the technology sector, I’ve watched with great interest the contracting community’s maneuvering on the Pentagon’s upcoming Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud computing contract, marked by vigorous jousting among competitors to gain ground in new markets or protect existing ones.
But knowing both the technologies in question and the business strategies of the companies involved, I see this as part of a broader struggle between conflicting approaches to technology and to meeting future government computing needs. It’s a fight between those who have positioned themselves to provide cutting-edge, innovative solutions; and those who are invested in the lucrative business of maintaining legacy systems.
Innovators vs. the Old Guard
Being acutely familiar with the government acquisition process over the past quarter-century, I agree wholeheartedly with those who insist that competition is necessary, that the process must be transparent, and that the DoD should not bind itself to a single cloud provider for the next decade. However, I can’t see what the critics are complaining about.
Competition – In its public comments and RFP drafts, the Pentagon has made very clear this is to be a “fair and open competition,” with no pre-ordained outcome. Any company that can address the contract requirements should give it their best shot. Furthermore, DoD officials point out that although this is a single-award contract, they have specifically noted multiple companies can pool their capabilities and team together to bid.
Transparency – The DoD has been talking with industry about its cloud computing needs for a very long time, and about what is now known as the JEDI contract since September. The Pentagon held an industry day in March with DoD officials from the Pentagon’s Cloud Executive Steering Group to provide information and solicit feedback. It then issued an initial draft RFP and a second draft, posting comments and responses. Additionally, as directed by Congress, the DoD is submitting a report to lawmakers explaining why it has chosen a single-award contract.
Keeping options open – The draft RFP is not for a 10-year contract, as some have suggested. It calls for a two-year base contract, with options for renewal over the following eight years. By no means will those options be automatic. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan strongly made this case recently, saying that structuring the contract this way provides these advantages: the Pentagon doesn’t have to restart the entire lengthy acquisition process in a few years; and the DoD can revisit the contract after only two years to ensure the incumbent is meeting the DoD’s needs. Also lost in the hoopla, Shanahan pointed out, is the fact that the JEDI contract will account for only one-fifth of the DoD’s anticipated cloud needs; there will be many other cloud contracts on which companies will compete.
What really matters
Even more important than any of these issues is that this contract must be decided based on what’s best for our nation’s security and what will best support the war fighter. JEDI is absolutely needed to effectively modernize DoD IT services. At the recent industry day to discuss JEDI, Tim Van Name, deputy director of the Defense Digital service, made clear that multiple clouds would increase complexity and risk, and thus the cost of cloud adoption. The single-award approach is designed to fulfill mission requirements, protect the war fighter, and provide the most cost-efficient solution for the taxpayer.
Innovation requires initiative and investment. I have seen many forward-thinking companies take the initiative — and the risk — to develop advanced cloud computing and other innovative capabilities. They have positioned themselves to best serve current and future technology requirements. On the flip side, I view companies that have not adequately invested in R&D exhibit a vested interest in slowing the government’s embrace of innovation — the administration and Congress (and the taxpayer) should not continue to subsidize their failure to innovate.
Administration officials have repeatedly stressed the importance of innovation in government technology to “improve government operations and services, (and) improve the quality of life for Americans.”
It is time to replace outdated, less secure and costly-to-maintain legacy technologies. The federal government and the taxpayer deserve the best, most secure, most cost-effective technologies the private sector can provide.
John B. Wood is CEO and chairman of information technology security consultants Telos Corporation.