DoD’s JEDI: A disturbance in the force

This column was originally published on Roger Waldron’s blog at The Coalition for Government Procurement and was republished here with permission from the author.

It has been over one year since this blog discussed the issues associated with the Defense Department’s plan and justification for its single-award of a $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative (JEDI) cloud contract.

DoD’s approach raised, and continues to raise, significant concerns regarding the long-term negative impact on access to innovation and competition from the commercial marketplace. In particular, industry has identified significant concerns regarding DoD’s approach, which appears to defy projections for the commercial cloud market.

Indeed, as pointed out last year, according to a 2016 Gartner Study, the consulting firm, “…expects multiprovider IaaS/PaaS strategies to become the de facto standard.” These findings were further corroborated by testimony provided by DoD’s then-new chief information officer before the House Oversight Subcommittees on Information Technology and Government Operations that, “in a cloud world, there is no such thing as one solution is going to solve for all.”

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Since then, reports of investigations have surfaced, as have allegations of improper conduct by some associated with the procurement, and, separately, the CIA has moved from a single-award cloud strategy to a multiple-award cloud strategy for its next generation multi-billion dollar cloud acquisition.

Whatever ultimately unfolds for JEDI, Coalition for Government Procurement members are hard pressed to remember a time when a procurement of this size and importance was plagued with such controversy. Suffice it to say that the situation is not optimal for DoD or for the procurement system. In commenting on some of the issues surrounding the program, Steve Schooner, Nash and Cibinic professor of government procurement law at The George Washington University, opined, “This is not business as usual, nor should it be the way DoD conducts its business generally. And it surely shouldn’t be the way DoD awards its largest, most important, highest profile contracts.”

Steve is right — process and perception are important. Honest, fair, open, and competitive acquisition planning, contract award, and contract administration are critical for maintaining the integrity and credibility of the procurement process. Without a credible procurement process, innovative vendors will seek alternative opportunities for the investment of their capture dollars, opportunities where they perceive a fair chance to compete for business.

At a time of increased conflict around the globe and the rise in threats from our nation’s historical adversaries, the government cannot risk its access to the innovations of its industrial base. For this reason, we should care for the credibility of the process as we would care for water being carried in our cupped hands through the desert.

This blog is not drawing a conclusion about what happened thus far in the course of the JEDI procurement. It is not our place to do so, and, in any case, we have no access to information beyond that which is available to the public. It is vital to safeguard the process that is central to the government in fulfilling its service to the American people. Notwithstanding how the JEDI issues are resolved, the atmospherics surrounding the program suggest one reasonable course of action: Re-structure and re-issue the procurement.

So much has happened in the course of this procurement, so much has found its way into daily newspapers and nightly television reports, that, even if JEDI finds a path through the controversy it faces, it will have arrived at its destination under a cloud of doubt about the credibility of the procurement process that could last well into the future. Remember, this is an investment of taxpayer dollars dedicated to the protection of our country.

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