DOD tries to take control of the JEDI 'narrative'

DOD cloud 

The Defense Department's CIO shop is trying to control the narrative on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement, a massive cloud computing acquisition that has generated intense scrutiny because of its size, scope and a hard fought lawsuit from one of the companies eliminated from the bidding.

Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are the two cloud services providers remaining with a chance to win JEDI cloud – which has a ceiling value of $10 billion over 10 years.

President Donald Trump had his say about JEDI, telling reporters in July that he'd been hearing a lot of complaints from "companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM. Great companies are complaining about it."

Now, recently confirmed Defense Secretary Mark Esper is reviewing the plans, and DOD is trying to shape the way mainstream media outlets talk about the procurement, its importance for DOD's artificial intelligence push and its cost.

Dana Deasy, the DOD CIO, invited a group of reporters Aug. 9 to clarify the thrust of the department's digital modernization strategy. (FCW was not invited to the session, and this article is based in part on a transcript of the briefing released by DOD.)

One main point was that the JEDI procurement is continuing on schedule -- but that an August award is not in the cards, and Deasy pushed back on language being used in the press that the program was on hold.

"There is not a pause on the overall JEDI program, meaning that we are still a number of weeks away from completion of the overall evaluation," Deasy said.

Since DOD won the lawsuit brought by Oracle in the Court of Federal Claims, Deasy said, the Defense Department is "now able to pivot our full attention, the energy of everybody's time and efforts back towards the completion of the evaluation."

Esper's review, Deasy said, is likely weeks from completion. DOD will not award a contract if the source selection process wraps before Esper completes the probe. DOD will also have to consult the inspector general's office, which is currently investigating potential violations, should a final award be made before the report is complete.

Deasy said the DOD CIO's job was to educate Esper so "he will have a good understanding" of the consequences. To ensure this, Deasy plans on bringing in technical expertise from U.S. Cyber Command, representatives from the military services and combatant commands over several weeks.

DOD released a slide deck dated July 25 and accompanying fact sheet ahead of the briefing, which focused on DOD's cloud strategy and debunking "myths" about the JEDI procurement respectively.

The material makes a point of noting that DOD is only on the hook to pay $1 million to its JEDI winner as a "guaranteed minimum" and there are multiple option periods to make sure DOD "is not locked in." Additionally, the documents note that JEDI is one piece of a broader cloud push.

Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who heads the DOD's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) said that cloud is a key piece of DOD's AI strategy.

"While we moved fast in Project Maven, delivering the first AI capabilities to a combat theater within six months of standing up, there is no question whatsoever that both Maven and the JAIC would be much further along right now with A.I. fielding, had we had an enterprise cloud solution in place as originally scheduled," Shanahan said.

Shanahan said that the enterprise cloud will support efforts already underway to push data and intelligence to the edge in combat situations. Shanahan outlined a new Project Maven push called "smart system" currently in development and being fielded in Afghanistan. Smart system is "an AI-enabled [operations-intelligence] fusion system" that works in conjunction with a system used by Special Operations Command. The system generates a lot of data on the battlefield, but Shanahan said, there's "no common fabric" for cleaning the data to share with other users and integrating that data with new algorithms and applications requires a lot of human labor.

"If I am a warfighter, I want as much data as you could possibly give me, let me use my sort of algorithms to sort through it…at machine speeds, let the machines do that but the humans think," Shanahan said. "It's really hard for me to do that without…an enterprise cloud solution."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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