An internal investigation by the Department of Defence (DoD) has found that the decision to award the JEDI contract to Microsoft was administered fairly, despite widespread reports of political interference.
The DoD’s Inspector General sought to review whether the decision to award Microsoft with a $10 billion cloud computing contract had been handled fairly and legally, as well as investigate reports that the White House pressured officials to reject a proposal from Amazon Web Services.
The report found that the process met the DoD’s standards, however, it was unable to review the deal in its entirety due to restrictions imposed by a “presidential communications privilege”.
Since it was first announced, the Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI) project has been marred in controversy. From its single-vendor nature, to accusations of bias, the bidding process has resulted in extensive legal action. Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched an appeal shortly after Microsoft were announced the winners, citing political influence, particularly that of US President Donald Trump which has been heavily reported.
Oracle, meanwhile, launched legal action in November after it claimed AWS itself had sought to influence the decision, claiming that two DoD officials had been offered jobs at AWS during the process, while a third was a former consultant for the company.
Although the DoD report said that the process had been handled properly, it revealed that several DoD witnesses were instructed by the General Counsel (OGC) of the agency to not answer questions about potential communications between White House and DoD officials regarding JEDI, according to the report.
“As a result, we could not be certain whether there were any White House communications with some DoD officials which may have affected the JEDI procurement,” the report stated.
“However, we believe the evidence we received showed that the DoD personnel who evaluated proposals and made the source-selection awarding Microsoft the JEDI Cloud contract were not pressured about their decision on the award of the contract by any DoD leaders more senior to them, who may have communicated with the White House.”
The report states that DoD witnesses were aware of media reports about the JEDI award, but they said they considered it “lobbying,” and “media swirl”. These refer to statements reportedly made by Trump that criticised Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos. However, the report said that these comments had no effect on the work of each witness.
Instead, the findings suggest that “inaccurate media reports” and stories of “lobbying” from competing cloud companies may have created “the appearance or perception” that the award process was biased.
The report uses the infamous “screw Amazon” quote as an example. According to Guy Snodgrass’ book ‘Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis‘, the President directed defence secretary Mark Esper to review the JEDI procurement. According to the DoD, the book speculated that he tried to influence Esper and other DoD officials not to select Amazon. The report also suggests that media reports, singling out CNN, contributed to speculation that Trump may have attempted to influence the procurement against Amazon.
However, the investigation could not corroborate or disprove Snodgrass’ account. Mattis told the investigation he could “not confirm” Snodgrass’ statement and said he did not recall talking to the President about JEDI. Other DoD officials said they “did not recall any meeting like” the one that Snodgrass describes in the book.
The investigation was also unable to fully corroborate or contradict Snodgrass’ account of the small group meeting, as the officials named by Snodgrass were instructed by the OGC to not answer any questions about communications with the President. The report concludes, however, that whether or not the meeting happened as described, it did not influence Mattis’ actions toward the JEDI bidding process.