The Defense Department’s inspector general shed a few glimmers of light onto the office’s ongoing investigation into the Pentagon’s controversial JEDI Cloud contract on Tuesday.
The existence of the probe has been known for months, but in its first public comments on the matter, the OIG said in a statement that the investigation was making “substantial progress,” and that it planned to write a report on its findings once the work is complete.
To conduct the review, the IG’s office has assembled a “multidisciplinary team” that includes auditors, investigators and attorneys, Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the office said in a statement.
“We are reviewing the DoD’s handing of the JEDI cloud acquisition, including the development of requirements and the request for proposal process,” she said. “In addition, we are investigating whether current or former DoD officials committed misconduct relating to the JEDI acquisition, such as whether any had any conflicts of interest related to their involvement in the acquisition process.”
The IG’s review is one factor that may play a role in the timing of a contract award for the up-to-$10 billion cloud contract. In a roundtable with reporters last week, Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s chief information officer, said the department hoped to have the IG’s written conclusions in hand before it selects Amazon Web Services or Microsoft as the winner of the single-award procurement.
“Our role is to let the IG be independent, they need complete their process,” he said. “But if we get to the point where we don’t have an IG report, before we make any kind of award, we would obviously have a conversation with them. In having that consultation, we would decide if there’s anything they’re sharing with us that would give us reason for pause before continuing on with the award.”
Separately, Mark Esper, the new Defense secretary is conducting his own review — led by Deasy’s office — and the Pentagon has said that review would have to be finished before an award is made.
But based on previous investigations of the JEDI contract, the question isn’t whether there were ethical missteps involving DoD personnel — it’s whether they had a meaningful impact on the procurement process.
Former Pentagon employees found in violation
Chandra Brooks, the JEDI program’s contracting officer, first referred the matter to the IG in April after conducting her own investigation that uncovered “potential ethical violations.” She found that Deap Ubhi and Victor Gavin, two former Pentagon employees who later took positions at AWS, had violated a section of the Federal Acquisition Regulation that requires officials to avoid conflicts of iThe internal investigation also found that Ubhi and Gavin may have violated laws that bar officials from gaining personal financial interest from their government positions; Brooks referred those matters to the IG.
Left to right: Steve Schooner of the George Washington University, and Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore Law School, and Antonio Franco, a partner with PilieroMazza PLLC.
DoD’s win in federal court doesn’t mean JEDI is out of the woods, experts say
However, she also concluded that even though Ubhi, who was in talks to rejoin AWS at the same time he was working on JEDI, should never have worked on the procurement, his conflicts didn’t influence any of the program’s key decisions. She made a similar finding about Gavin, who attended an internal JEDI planning meeting after he had already accepted a new job with AWS but before he retired from government.
In ruling last month on an unsuccessful bid protest lawsuit brought by Oracle, a federal judge agreed that the apparent misconduct did not have a meaningful impact on JEDI.
“The [contracting officer]’s work was thorough and even-handed,” Judge Eric Bruggink wrote. “She understood the legal and factual questions and considered the relevant evidence. It is unfortunate that the employees in question gave her so much evidence to consider, making it is easy for Oracle to cherry pick from the vast amount of communications and isolate a few suggestive sound bites. But that volume should not compel an unreasoned leap to the conclusion that there was fire as well as smoke.”
In March, Federal News Network reported that the FBI and the DoD IG has begun at least a preliminary criminal investigation into the JEDI contract.
The IG did not immediately respond to questions on Tuesday about whether the current probe involves criminal investigators, but in the statement, Allen said the IG would “consider” making all of its findings public once the investigation is finished.
“We recognize the importance and time sensitive nature of the issues, and we intend to complete our review as expeditiously as possible,” she said.