Cloud Computing

6 questions for IBM, Amazon and the CIA

concept art for cloud services

Oral arguments in Amazon Web Services' complaint against the U.S. government over its decision to request the CIA to rebid a $600 million cloud computing contract it won in early 2013 began Oct .7 in a closed U.S. Court of Federal Claims courtroom.

The arguments presented by attorneys for AWS, the Department of Justice – representing the CIA – and IBM, which filed a successful bid protest the Government Accountability Office upheld in June, will be made behind closed doors despite Judge Thomas Wheeler's expressed preference for an open proceeding.

Court documents show that IBM and AWS motioned for oral arguments to be held out of public view because of expected references to "proprietary, competitively sensitive information," which Wheeler granted Oct. 4.

While the content of their arguments won't be made public, the narrative is. On Oct. 1, Wheeler ordered parties to address six specific questions during oral argument.

1. Was IBM's protest of the CIA's pricing requirement filed in a timely manner?

2. Based on the agency's evaluation of proposals, did IBM have a substantial chance of receiving the contract award?

3. In the absence of the GAO's June 6 decision recommending corrective action, would the CIA have issued RFP Amendment 5 containing 47 changes and clarifications?

4. Of the 47 changes and clarifications contained in RFP Amendment 5, which of them, if any, did the agency regard as material changes to the RFP requirements?

5. In soliciting a new round of proposals from Amazon and IBM, why did the CIA not open the competition to all interested parties?

6. What is the current status of the agency's procurement, in terms of the planned contract award date and the urgency of the agency's needs?

The questions delve deeply into GAO's sustainment of IBM's bid protest and the CIA's handling of the cloud computing procurement.

While the intelligence community recently rolled out its own internal cloud computing infrastructure based on the National Security Agency's internal model, since at least early 2012 the IC has been seeking an industry partner to build for all intelligence agencies a cloud unlike any ever developed.

In 2012, Microsoft and AT&T competed for the CIA's initial procurement of the contract but eventually dropped out, as did one other unidentified vendor. It has been a two-horse race since, despite the CIA following GAO's recommendations to rebid the contract in August, and Wheeler wants an explanation for why the competition wasn't opened to other parties.

While AWS, IBM and the CIA are not commenting on specifics regarding the case as this point, one likely explanation is that the CIA's time-frame for procuring a commercially developed internal cloud has been delayed significantly.

Government attorneys advised the judge on Oct. 4 they would respond to the status of the agency's procurement, but were hesitant to disclose the procurement's urgency in a public setting because of national security concerns. Such top-secret information could only be discussed in a closed hearing, they said.

The CIA is waiting for the court's ruling before it makes another award, despite having the rebid proposals since August. A ruling is not expected until mid-October.

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