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Pentagon Will ‘Reconsider’ JEDI Award To Microsoft

Joseph Tsidulko

A federal judge allowed the government to remand the sourcing decision back to the military to consider issues raised by AWS in its lawsuit alleging President Donald Trump corrupted the process for selecting a commercial cloud provider to modernize IT systems.

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A federal judge allowed the United States military on Friday to “reconsider certain aspects” of how it evaluated vendor bids to deliver the controversial JEDI cloud computing contract to Microsoft over Amazon Web Services.

It’s not clear the extent of the intended evaluation, or whether Pentagon officials will look at and address all the issues raised by Amazon Web Services when it sued the United States government after losing the contract to its hyper-scale rival. AWS argues interference from President Donald Trump corrupted award of the potentially $10 billion contract to modernize military IT systems with a commercial cloud provider.

Judge Patricia E Campbell-Smith, who sits on the United States Court of Federal Claims, granted the government’s motion to remand the case back to the Department of Defense for 120 days to allow military officials to look further into Amazon’s complaints regarding evaluation of six technical criteria in the source-selection process.

[Related: AWS Vs. Microsoft: 7 Things To Watch As The JEDI Cloud Saga Unfolds]

Last month, Judge Campbell-Smith granted Amazon’s request for a temporary restraining order that prevented Microsoft from moving forward with task orders and substantial implementation work on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract that has caused a firestorm of controversy in Silicon Valley and in Washington D.C.

A week ago, the judge explained that ruling as based on one likely deficiency involving Microsoft’s ability to provide online storage to the military’s stated specifications, prompting the military to ask for a reassessment phase. By deciding AWS was likely to win on the merits of that single evaluation criteria, Judge Campbell-Smith paused the process without immediately addressing several others AWS argues were improperly evaluated.

Microsoft, which voluntarily joined the federal government as a co-defendant in Amazon’s lawsuit, said that the company supports the Pentagon’s decision to “reconsider a small number of factors as it is likely the fastest way to resolve all issues and quickly provide the needed modern technology to people across our armed forces,” said Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s vice president of communications.

“Throughout this process, we’ve focused on listening to the needs of the DoD, delivering the best product, and making sure nothing we did delayed the procurement process. We are not going to change this approach now,” Shaw said.

An AWS spokesperson said: “we are pleased that the DoD has acknowledged ‘substantial and legitimate' issues that affected the JEDI award decision, and that corrective action is necessary. We look forward to complete, fair, and effective corrective action that fully insulates the re-evaluation from political influence and corrects the many issues affecting the initial flawed award.”

Neither the military in asking for the remand, or Judge Campbell-Smith in allowing it, mentioned the issue of presidential interference. Amazon argues that Trump’s animosity to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stemming from his ownership of the Washington Post, a newspaper the president perceives as antagonistic to his administration, corrupted JEDI source selection.

Judge Campbell-Smith noted the Pentagon has indicated the “primary harm it will suffer will be inconvenience and expense, rather than the inability to carry out national security functions” if implementation is delayed.

The judge’s decision to halt the process only addressed Factor 5, Price Scenario 6—a technical matter involving the capability to deliver online storage. She found it likely AWS could prove on at least that criteria that Microsoft proposal didn’t meet the requirements set forth in the military’s solicitation.

But the DoD, in asking for the remand, said it also wanted to “conduct clarifications with the offerors,” regarding the availability of their online marketplace offerings.

The military will also reconsider its decision in regard to “other “technical challenges” that probably won’t need any clarifications from the vendors. And vendors won’t be allowed to modify their proposals during the process, the government’s motion for remand said.

Amazon has repeatedly said it only wants a fair and objective valuation. The world’s largest public cloud provider has argued at least six of eight evaluation factors show flaws and signs of bias.

The ruling to remand the case back to the Pentagon leaves in limbo an AWS motion asking the court to order President Trump, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis to sit for questions in a deposition.

Amazon wants to ask Trump directly about his statement to Mattis to “screw Amazon” out of JEDI, as reported by a Mattis aide.

JEDI began to take shape back in 2017, with the solicitation and source-selection process playing out throughout 2018 and the award announced in 2019.

Military leaders have been eager to begin implementation of the massive cloud transformation project after the multiple delays resulting from the previous legal and administrative challenges.

“Over two years the DoD reviewed dozens of factors and sub factors and found Microsoft equal or superior to AWS on every factor,” Microsoft’s Shaw said. “We remain confident that Microsoft’s proposal was technologically superior, continues to offer the best value, and is the right choice for the DoD.”

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