Protest likely in JEDI cloud award

While Amazon Web Services might seek redress in the JEDI procurement, a fast-changing market may be the biggest challenge to Microsoft fully capitalizing on its DOD cloud win.

cloud (ranjith ravindran/Shutterstock.com)
 

Microsoft's award in the $10 billion, winner-take-all Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud procurement likely won't go unchallenged, experts said, but that doesn't mean the award will be overturned or the solicitation rewritten. Nor, however, does an upheld JEDI award necessarily mean the future of cloud at DOD belongs to Microsoft.

Amazon Web Services was viewed as a likely frontrunner for the contract. AWS has experience running a top secret impact level 6 cloud for the CIA, and is the largest commercial cloud provider in the marketplace. And, according to a forthcoming book about Jim Mattis' time as defense secretary, President Donald Trump ordered Mattis to "screw Amazon" out of an opportunity to win the coveted cloud contract.

AWS also spent much of the last year litigating the requirements in the Pentagon's JEDI solicitation as a defendant alongside the Defense Department against allegations of improper conflicts among DOD officials that weighted the procurement in the favor of AWS.

"Given the stakes -- not only the loss of up to $10 billion, but potentially being excluded from a lucrative business opportunity for as long as a decade -- there doesn't seem to be much downside in Amazon protesting the award," said Steven L. Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at George Washington University.

The next step for AWS is to request a debriefing from the Department of Defense to explain the decision.

"Amazon and Microsoft…know what the criteria are against which they were being evaluated," said Professional Services Council President and CEO David Berteau on an Oct. 28 call with reporters. "What they don't know is how the government scored either bidder against those, and a good debrief will provide both the process for that scoring and the outcomes of that scoring for all criteria."

On the other hand, Berteau noted, if the debrief doesn't provide clear answers to whether a company lost on price, technical factors, experience, past performance or other factors, "the best way to get more information on why you lost is to protest."

As a technical matter, companies have 10 days after a debrief to file a protest with the Government Accountability Office. Under GAO discovery rules certain designated company representatives get to look at the agency's contracting documents and evaluate whether to continue with a protest, amend a protest or sue in the Court of Federal Claims. Once a protest is filed, GAO is on a 100-day clock to render a decision.

Schooner noted that AWS could work the clock in its favor to extend the dispute deeper into the election cycle, if it's taking the approach that politics influenced the decision.

"Assuming Amazon believes that presidential influence impacted the outcome, if Amazon perceives that there is any chance that, in the foreseeable future, the president may be impeached or choose to resign, they would want DOD to be in a position to re-evaluate proposals or even amend the solicitation," he noted in an email. 

Stan Soloway, a former senior defense acquisition official and former head of PSC, told FCW the odds are that AWS would protest, but it's not a sure thing. He noted that DOD has other clouds and that the JEDI award is "not a mandate that you have to shift everything into this cloud." For Microsoft, JEDI is "a powerful hunting license, not a guarantee" of dominating the DOD cloud market.

Moreover, advances in cloud technology are making data and applications increasingly interoperable between clouds. "The strategy behind JEDI that made perfect sense three or four years ago may well be overtaken by the dynamics of the marketplace," Soloway said.

The DOD's JEDI award notice acknowledges the changing nature of cloud computing. "The Department continues to assess and pursue various cloud contracting opportunities to diversify the capabilities of the DoD Enterprise Cloud Environment. Additional contracting opportunities are anticipated," the notice states.

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