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AWS slams lack of White House cooperation in JEDI cloud contract investigation

The Department of Defense claims the Inspector General's report into the controversial JEDI cloud contract should nullify a number of allegations pertaining to the deal, but Amazon Web Services seems to disagree

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has rubbished the findings of a 317-page investigative report into “ethical misconduct” allegations pertaining to the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) controversial Joint Enterprise Defense infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract.

The $10bn cloud contract, which centres on the provision of a general purpose public cloud environment to the US government department, has been marred by controversy and allegations of supplier bias and political interference since it was first proposed in 2018.

Following a long, drawn-out and much-delayed procurement process, the DoD announced in October 2019 that Microsoft had been awarded the contract, despite industry watchers predicting all the way through that AWS would likely end up securing the decade-long deal.

Since then, AWS has repeatedly gone on record to claim the decision to award the contract to Microsoft over Amazon is due to “significant political interference” from the White House, and is currently in the midst of a legal action on this point.

The inspector general (IG) for the DoD has published details of its investigation into various allegations made about how the procurement was conducted, right back to the decision to award such a sizeable contract to a single supplier, and concluded that the entire process was carried out fairly and in accordance with the law.

“We reviewed the DoD’s decision to award the JEDI Cloud contract to a single contractor; the development of the requirements in the Request for Proposals; the DoD’s source selection process; the disclosures of source selection and proprietary information after contract award; and whether the White House influenced the JEDI Cloud source selection,” the 317-page report states.

The investigation was carried out by a multi-disciplinary team of DoD auditors, criminal and administrative investigators, and legal advisors, the document claims, who arrived at this conclusion after assessing 31.2 GB of email and a further 1.05 GB of supporting documents.

“We also conducted more than 80 interviews, including [with] the JEDI Cloud procuring contracting officer, current and former program managers, attorneys, ethics officials, and other DoD officials involved in the JEDI procurement process,” the document reads.

“We interviewed officials from the Intelligence Community, the Defense Information Systems Agency, and the Federal Risk and Authorisation Management Program about the challenges of information sharing and data security.

“We also interviewed other witnesses who were identified to us during our interviews as potentially having information relevant to our investigation,” the document goes on to state.

White House’s ‘refusal to cooperate’

However, the report also states the inspector general’s investigation was unable to fully review the allegations made directly by AWS about political interference affecting the outcome of the procurement due to several witnesses being told not to respond to its questions.

This was to safeguard what is termed in the report as “presidential communications privilege”, which meant these individuals were banned from answering questions about any potential communications that took place between the White House and DoD officials about the JEDI contract.

“Therefore, we could not definitively determine the full extent or nature of interactions that administration officials had, or may have had, with senior DoD officials regarding the JEDI Cloud procurement,” the report states. 

“However, we believe the evidence we received showed that the DoD personnel who evaluated the contract proposals and awarded Microsoft the JEDI Cloud contract were not pressured regarding their decision on the award of the contract by any DoD leaders more senior to them, who may have communicated with the White House.”

In a statement to Computer Weekly, an AWS spokesperson criticised the report and its findings, before singling out the White House’s lack of cooperation with the investigation as a blocker.

“[The report] says nothing about the merits of the award, which we know are highly questionable based on the judge’s recent statements and the government’s request to go back and take corrective action,” the spokesperson said.

“And it’s clear that this report couldn’t access political interference because several DoD witnesses were instructed by the White House not to answer the IG’s questions about communications between the White House and the DoD officials.

“The White House’s refusal to cooperate with the IG’s investigation is yet another blatant attempt to avoid a meaningful and transparent review of the JEDI contract award,” the spokesperson concluded.

The DoD appears to think differently though, and said it in its own statement that the report should serve to put an end to any further “corporate-driven attacks” on the JEDI contract and how it was awarded.

“The inspector’s general final report on the JEDI Cloud procurement confirms that the Department of Defense conducted the JEDI Cloud procurement process fairly and in accordance with law. [It] found that there was no influence by the White House or DoD leadership on the career source selection boards who made the ultimate vendor selection,” the DoD statement reads.

“This report should finally close the door on corporate-driven attacks on the career procurement officials who have been working tirelessly to get the much needed JEDI Cloud computing environment into the hands of our frontline warfighters while continuing to protect American taxpayers.”

Read more about the JEDI cloud contract

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