AWS charges Trump pressured DOD in JEDI procurement

Amazon has filed a lawsuit over the $10-billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud computing contract awarded to Microsoft, saying President Donald Trump personally pressured the Department of Defense to deny Amazon Web Services the contract out of personal and political bias against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

AWS’ complaint released publicly Dec. 9 spells out — with some key redactions — how and why AWS thinks Trump influenced DOD to ignore AWS’ technical advantages and change certain key contract requirements late in the game to “artificially level the playing field between AWS and its competitors, including Microsoft.”

AWS wants the Court of Federal Claims to invalidate the award to Microsoft, stop DOD and Microsoft from starting work on the project and require the Pentagon to reevaluate the submitted proposals or solicit new ones.

“DOD’s substantial and pervasive errors are hard to understand and impossible to assess separate and apart from the President’s repeatedly expressed determination to, in the words of the President himself, ‘screw Amazon,'” the filing states. “Under escalating and overt pressure from President Trump, DOD departed from the rules of procurement and complied — consciously or subconsciously — with its Commander in Chief’s expressed desire to reject AWS’s superior bid,” according to AWS.

One key detail that emerges is an “eleventh hour” change at DOD to require the JEDI vendor to build “new, dedicated classified infrastructure for DOD” — a move that thwarted AWS plans to tap its existing classified infrastructure to deliver JEDI. That adjusted requirement, according to the complaint, “resulted in an additional increase to AWS’s total evaluated price.”

The complaint also claims that while a decision to award JEDI to Microsoft was made Oct. 17, it was only after this — on Oct. 22 — that Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was recusing himself from source selection review because of a connection between his adult son and IBM, one of the early bidders for the JEDI contract.

AWS also uses the lawsuit as an opportunity to critique the security architecture of Microsoft’s cloud offering — specifically its links to Microsoft’s Windows Server operating system and the way in which administrators can access customer data. Administrator access, the filing notes, increases risk of insider threats. “This attack vector … is particularly dangerous to our national security, and it was the source of multiple prominent security breaches, including the Manning and Snowden data breaches.”

While frequent redactions make the technical aspects of the complaint difficult to follow, essentially AWS accuses DOD of conducting evaluations of security, access controls, performance at the tactical edge, portability, price and other factors in bad faith, with an eye to tipping the scales in Microsoft’s favor.

According to the complaint, the appointment and subsequent confirmation of Esper as Defense secretary in the summer of 2019 “marked an important turning point in DOD’s analyses of the evaluation factors.” The complaint states that Esper and other senior officials — including DOD CIO Dana Deasy — working on JEDI were “uniquely susceptible” to pressure from Trump and that the structure of the Washington Headquarters Services Acquisition Directorate made political influence on the award more likely to be felt up and down the decision chain.

“No amount of compartmentalization, segregation, or anonymization could have isolated the decision-makers from the clear and unmistakable conflict of interest that stemmed from the very highest levels of power in DOD and that were made known to all,” the complaint states.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

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