Pentagon finishes research for JEDI replacement as Supreme Court dismisses final legal challenge

The final vestiges of legal dispute surrounding the Pentagon’s JEDI Cloud contract faded away this week when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Oracle’s challenge to how the contract was structured. Meanwhile, DoD is closing in on a key decision on the contract that will replace JEDI.

The department has now finished the market research process for the forthcoming Joint Warfighter Cloud Cabability (JWCC) program, which will involve multiple vendors instead of the single-award approach DoD used for the ill-fated JEDI contract. The department expects to make a decision on precisely which companies will be allowed to participate in the program by the end of this month.

The department plans to issue “directed solicitations” to at least two companies: Microsoft and Amazon. But Defense officials have previously left the door open — or at least cracked —  to the possibility that they’d include the three other largest players in the U.S. commercial cloud market: Google, IBM and Oracle.

That’s part of what the market research process was meant to determine, said Danielle Metz, the deputy DoD chief information officer for information enterprise.

“This is an aggressive campaign we have done in order to realize the strategic shift [to JWCC],” she said Wednesday during a forum hosted by Government CIO Magazine. “Most times, something similar to this would have taken 10 months for market research. The team did it in 60 days, and it’s because we are hearing the sense of urgency from our combatant commanders: We still have an urgent, unmet capability gap. We don’t have a contract where we can order cloud services and infrastructure at all three classification levels, and at the tactical edge.”

Once this month’s solicitations have been issued, DoD plans to make contract awards to the cloud providers it’s chosen for JWCC by next April.

From there, the hope is to be able to have JWCC services available for DoD components to order by 30 days afterward, but only for unclassified-level cloud services; classified services will take a bit longer. Cloud products approved at the secret level should be available within 60 days of the April contract award, and DoD hopes to have top secret-level services available within 180 days of the award.

“I consider JWCC a crown jewel in our software modernization strategy, because you need to have cloud infrastructure in order for us to do agile DevSecOps, and you have to have it all through all classification levels,” Metz said. “And we need to be able to make it so that you’re able to have it at your fingertips — and not have it take months or even a year to have access to that.”

When DoD first cancelled the controversial JEDI contract in July, officials said that they would hold talks with all five large U.S.-based cloud infrastructure providers, but that their preliminary market research up to that point had indicated that only Microsoft and AWS would suit the military’s needs.

But in filings in its case before the U.S. Supreme Court just last month, Oracle gave no indication that those talks have given the company reason to think it has a chance to win a spot on the JWCC contract.

Quite the opposite, in fact: company attorneys told the justices they should hear Oracle’s challenge to the JEDI contract — even though DoD had already canceled it by that point — because, in Oracle’s estimation, DoD is likely still using a selection process that improperly excludes all vendors except Microsoft and Amazon.

The underlying legal issues Oracle raised were still a major concern, its lawyers argued.

“Cases do not become moot simply because a defendant issues a press release claiming to have ceased its misconduct,” they wrote. “This court should hold Oracle’s petition until the Department of Defense screens bidders under the JWCC solicitation, or at least clarifies its parameters … to establish that JWCC does not simply reproduce JEDI’s legal infirmities under a new name.”

The court on Monday declined to do so, finally ending the long legal saga over JEDI.

Although the department’s enterprise cloud ambitions have already been set back by three years of litigation, Metz said DoD has used that time to also put in place some of the building blocks that will help the military use those enterprise cloud services effectively.

For example, in order to launch and sustain the wildly successful Commercial Virtual Remote service DoD created to let its employees telework in the early stages of the pandemic, the department first had to dramatically expand its connectivity between DoD’s own networks and the public internet.

Metz said the department has learned there are several other critical enablers to successfully using cloud services that weren’t in place when the JEDI project first started in 2018.

DoD laid out several of those key lessons when it published a new cloud strategy for overseas locations this spring. Among them: Besides having robust network connectivity, the department also needs cloud data centers that are physically located near the overseas locations where military forces operate.

“Right now, the way that we have things structured is that we’re doing a lot of backhauling from those locations back to the United States. That’s labor intensive, and it increases latency,” she said. “A lot of the things our warfighters need for real time decisions, imagery, all of that, why are we moving it all the way back and forth to the United States? It’s creating significant delays, and it’s putting our people and our allies in harm’s way.”

And maybe most importantly, Metz said, the department now realizes that its own workforce needs more cloud expertise than it currently has — and certainly more than it had three years ago.

“If we don’t address [our workforce issues], everything’s for naught,” she said. “We have to ensure the warfighters and the people who at the tactical edge actually know how to use these technologies, use them well, and that it’s seamless for them.”

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