Two members of Congress are seeking a formal investigation into claims that the bidding process for a contentious $10 billion Pentagon contract was rigged in favor of Amazon.
The contract in question would give one company full reign over the Defense Department’s Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative, or JEDI Cloud—a program that the Pentagon has described as “truly about increasing the lethality of our department.” JEDI is part of the DOD’s quest to bring military operations into the modern era by partnering with a commercial cloud provider to streamline defense operations, upgrade data-analytics programs using artificial intelligence, and provide soldiers with real-time mission data.
In a letter to the Defense Department’s inspector general on Monday, House Appropriations committee members Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Steve Womack of Arkansas, both Republicans, accused military leaders of violating federal law and departmental ethics standards by moving forward with plans to award the JEDI contract to a single company, despite extensive criticism from industry leaders and lawmakers. Womack is also chair of the House Budget Committee; Cole chairs an appropriations subcommittee.
The two legislators expressed concern that the proposed contract was written in a way that seemed “to be tailored to one specific contractor,” who they described as having “significant connections” to a number of military leaders involved in drafting the oddly specific requirements for the JEDI program. The lawmakers did not specify the contractor, but it is clear that their comments were a reference to Amazon. Oracle, IBM, and Google, as well as some outside experts, have expressed similar concerns in the months since the details of the solicitation process were first released.
Amazon long has been considered the likely winner of JEDI contract, as it is one of the only cloud providers with the infrastructure, funds, and security clearance necessary to meet all of the Pentagon’s requirements. The criticism is more acute because of the Pentagon’s insistence on awarding JEDI to a single bidder, rather than several companies and contractors.
Both Oracle and IBM have filed official protests with the US Government Accountability Office, on the grounds that the DOD’s decision to award the $10 billion contract to just one company both restricts innovation and poses a massive security risk. “JEDI turns its back on the preferences of Congress and the administration, is a bad use of taxpayer dollars, and was written with just one company in mind,” IBM General Manager Sam Gordy said in a statement in advance of JEDI’s bid deadline.
Congress has held numerous meetings with Pentagon officials in an attempt to address these claims, but Womack and Cole’s letter indicates that some lawmakers still have serious concerns about the program and the intentions behind it. “The department has not provided any adequate explanation as to why they continue to insist on a contract structure that has been widely criticized by Congress and industry,” reads the letter.
The DOD’s Office of Inspector General said it is reviewing the request. An investigation would further delay the award process for JEDI, which has already been subject to numerous setbacks on account of inquiries from Congress and GAO protests.
At the WIRED25 summit earlier this month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos affirmed his support for the DOD and defended the company’s decision to continue to pursue government contracts amid protests from tech workers. “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” said Bezos.