WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday declined the Pentagon’s request to toss out Amazon Web Services’ political interference allegations against former President Donald Trump in its controversial enterprise cloud contract, leaving the future of the program uncertain.
The decision, released with the judge’s opinion sealed, puts the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud program in jeopardy after the Pentagon hinted in January in a memo to Congress that a decision in favor of the tech giant would cause the department the reassess the future of the program.
The Defense Department awarded the JEDI cloud contract, worth up to $10 billion over a decade, to Microsoft in October 2019, and the win was largely seen as a major upset. But Microsoft and the department never got the cloud program off the ground after the same U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge ordered work on the project to cease after finding AWS’ technical challenges to the award had merit.
An AWS challenge in December 2019 alleged that Trump steered the contract toward Microsoft, pointing to anti-Amazon statements he made in the White House and as a presidential candidate in 2016. The tech giant called for sworn statements from then-defense secretaries Mark Esper and Jim Mattis, as well as from former DoD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy. For his part, Deasy has maintained in congressional testimony that the White House didn’t influence the final decision of acquisition officials.
AWS lauded the court decision in a statement.
“The record of improper influence by former President Trump is disturbing, and we are pleased the Court will review the remarkable impact it had on the JEDI contract award,” an AWS spokesperson said in a statement. “AWS continues to be the superior technical choice, the less expensive choice, and would provide the best value to the DoD and the American taxpayer. We continue to look forward to the Court’s review of the many material flaws in the DoD’s evaluation, and we remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the Department has access to the best technology at the best price.”
It’s an open question what comes next for the JEDI cloud. In a January memo to Congress, DoD warned that if the court ruled against the department, the program could be a jeopardy because political interference allegations would require rounds of depositions. At the time, the department wrote that “the prospect of such a lengthy litigation process might bring the future of the JEDI cloud procurement into question.”
In a statement, Microsoft spokesperson Frank Shaw downplayed the significance of the ruling.
“This procedural ruling changes little,” Shaw said. “Not once, but twice, professional procurement staff at the DoD chose Microsoft after a thorough review. Many other large and sophisticated customers make the same choice every week. We’ve continued for more than a year to do the internal work necessary to move forward on JEDI quickly, and we continue to work with DoD, as we have for more than 40 years, on mission critical initiatives like supporting its rapid shift to remote work and the Army’s IVAS [Integrated Visual Augmentation System].”
A DoD spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For several years, the Pentagon has said it has an urgent need for the JEDI cloud, which would host 80 percent of the DoD systems and give the war fighter cloud capabilities at the tactical edge. But the program has endured years of delays due to multiple protests and court challenges by industry since its inception.
With Deasy gone, the Pentagon’s top IT shop is led by acting CIO John Sherman, who in a January interview with C4ISRNET said that he wasn’t afraid to make big decisions on the JEDI program.
“My view is to work closely with DoD leadership on this, and while I’m vested with the acting role, we can’t wait, whether it’s on a big decision like that [JEDI] or other big decisions that may not be of a procurement nature,” Sherman said.
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.