Debate heats up around $10B cloud deal as protests expand

Concerns around the Defense Department’s management of services for the pending Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure bubble up as award protests mount.

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Pressure on the Defense Department’s massive cloud effort has ramped up this week, featuring  mounting industry protests, Congressional appropriators limiting funds before the contract is awarded and public concerns over future contract management.

Oracle Cloud bolstered its pre-award protest against the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement with its second supplement since the proposal was released in August. The original protest and first supplement were respectively filed Aug. 6 and Aug. 23.

Congressional appropriators restricted funds distribution for the JEDI cloud contract in their conference report for the 2019 defense spending bill released Sept. 13. Funds won’t be released for the JEDI or multi-billion-dollar Defense Enterprise Operations Solutions cloud programs until 90 days after DOD provides congressional defense committees a detailed strategy for budgeting, acquisition and end goals.

The lack of an articulated strategy for JEDI has been a frequent discussion topic at several of the Hudson Institute's JEDI or Defense Department cloud-focused events this year.

John Stenbit, former DOD assistant secretary for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, said at a Sept. 14 Hudson Institute event that  the department should focus on defining what it wants and not award a contract until a vendor proves interoperability. 

DOD has "not adequately described where they’re going ... and that makes it difficult to manage," Stenbit said. "What is the test of if they pass, I'll pay them; if they don’t they won't?"

Thomas Keelan, the Hudson Institute’s project manager and research associate who focuses on cloud computing and emerging technologies, told FCW the event series -- sponsored by Oracle and Microsoft -- is meant to encourage productive policy discussions ahead of the award rather than waiting to see what happens.

"We want to drive a public policy debate now to look at the whole picture of DOD IT operations" and "tease out questions now so when JEDI is rolled out it, can be used as a learning experience, not a precedent setter," he said. "JEDI is a case study, and we want to scrutinize it as such."

The Hudson Institute events, which have recently focused on the contentious single-award process and DOD’s ability to manage a seemingly amorphous cloud environment, have drawn interest from an array of media and industry, including  smaller cloud providers, startups, software vendors as well as House Armed Service Committee staffers and a few DOD employees, Keelan said.

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