Military Spokesperson: Oracle's JEDI Cloud Allegations ‘Poorly-Informed’
The judge hearing Oracle’s legal challenge to the military’s cloud transformation contract found enough to raise eyebrows, but was unconvinced that the integrity of the process was compromised, or the military opted for a legally indefensible strategy
A military spokesperson had harsh words for Oracle on Sunday in reaction to the final decision from the judge who already rejected the tech giant's challenge to the JEDI procurement process for the military's cloud computing transformation project.
Oracle's allegations of conflicts of interest in Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure bidding are "the subject of poorly-informed and often manipulative speculation," said Elissa Smith, a Department of Defense spokeswoman.
"DOD officials directly involved in the work of this procurement along with the senior leaders charged with making the critical decisions related to JEDI have always placed the interests of the warfighter first and have acted without bias, prejudice, or self-interest," Smith said. "The same cannot be said of all parties to the debate over JEDI."
The full decision from Judge Eric Bruggink squarely rejected Oracle's claim that the integrity of the procurement process had been compromised, while acknowledging problems with the actions of certain military officials with ties to Amazon Web Services and difficult, sometimes conflicting legal requirements around the decision to source the potentially $10 billion contract through a single cloud provider.
"The facts on which Oracle rests its conflicts of interest allegations are certainly sufficient to raise eyebrows," Bruggink wrote, noting the largely undisclosed ties between military officials and Amazon that prompted extensive investigations, including from the DoD's Inspector General.
But Contracting Officer Chanda Brooks "was thorough and even-handed," the judge wrote.
"She understood the legal and factual questions and considered the relevant evidence. It is unfortunate that the employees in question gave her so much evidence to consider, making it is easy for Oracle to cherry pick from the vast amount of communications and isolate a few suggestive sound bites," Bruggink said.
Oracle had a lot of material to work with in making allegations of conflicts of interest because several Pentagon employees were not forthright about ties to Amazon.
The contracting officer's team evaluated five people, and found they had "no impact" on procurement, though some were dishonest with their superiors.
In particular, Deep Ubhi lied about his ties to AWS, particularly that Amazon had agreed to buy a startup he launched and then reemploy him.
The Inspector General investigation triggered found Ubhi never shared non-public information with AWS, and didn't have access to sensitive documents related to the RFP.
For several reasons, he couldn't have, and didn't, impact the procurement decision.
The judge's final ruling in the case also for the first time named Victor Gavin as the Navy official also accused of impropriety.
Gavin was a deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for C41 and Space Programs.
Gavin "discussed retirement plans with an AWS recruiter and with AWS Director of DoD programs from August 2017 to January 2018." In so doing, Gavin also potentially violated rules, "but did not taint the procurement," Bruggink wrote.
The officials at the center of those claims were "bit players," the court concurred with the DoD, and their potential conflicts didn't impact the integrity of the procurement process, Smith said.
As part of his analysis, Judge Bruggink reviewed Slack communications where the guiding principles for most of the requirements were first set out by members of the Defense Digital Service Team.
That's where the decision gelled for an Indefinite Quantity, Indefinite Delivery contract through an award to a single vendor.
Oracle argued that type of procurement put the contract under the purview of a law Congress passed in 2008 restricting single-supplier awards.
Responders immediately questioned the wisdom of that approach, including Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and Google, the judge noted. Only AWS argued that, "although multiple awards might decrease the likelihood of protests, a single award would increase consistency, interoperability, and ease of maintenance."
The military's Joint Requirements Oversight Council also issued a memo to twenty-two DoD stakeholders to support the position of selecting a single vendor.
The judge noted the complexity, and some conflict, in the laws guiding those types of contracts.
For starters, the approach would require setting prices for services not yet in existence that would be added in the potentially 10-year period of the contract through a technology refresh provision.
But ultimately, the judge found the evaluation criteria "reasonable and enforceable."
The law states a preference for a multiple vendor award. But Brooks appropriately cited three exceptions—a condition for bypassing the multiple source approach.
"Read in its entirety, the ruling highlights that DOD’s unique needs for the warfighter have consistently driven decisions related to JEDI. Empowering the warfighter is the first principle of all DOD acquisition and has been the guiding light for the dedicated team of public servants working under terrific scrutiny to bring the tools of the digital age to our nation’s men and women in uniform," Smith said in response to that ruling.
Ultimately, the specific "gate criteria" for "high availability and failover"— one that Oracle argued exceeded the military's needs—can be enforced, Bruggink concluded. And Oracle conceded it could not meet that threshold when it submitted its bid last year.
Oracle, based in Redwood City, Calif., filed a lawsuit Dec. 6 against the federal government related to the Department of Defense’s lucrative Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) initiative. The complaint was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, a court that typically hears monetary claims against the U.S. government, and AWS voluntarily joined the government as a co-defendant.
Oracle declined to comment and Amazon said it was not commenting on the JEDI contract.