JEDI cloud project is in trouble

A recent news story told of a Virginia woman who lived with her mother. The mother suddenly died at home in a chair. Her daughter covered the deceased with dozens of blankets, interspersed with 66 air fresheners. Each evening the distraught woman would sit with her mother.

This went on for six weeks. Suspicious relatives eventually notified police.

Sadly, nothing the daughter thought or did could really overcome the fact that her mother had passed on. She did not give her mother a dignified burial.

Could the Defense Department’s planned cloud procurement, known as JEDI, be the mother in the chair? Not quite. It’s not dead, but it’s not smelling so good either. It may be time for DoD to bury it and start over.

Oracle Corp., principally, has been trying to torpedo the acquisition. Well, not so much the acquisition as DoD’s single-vendor approach. It’s been as persistent as a terrier in a rat hole. It alleges the JEDI request for proposals contained detailed requirements that wired it for Amazon. Oracle seems to want to force DoD to go the multiple-award IDIQ (indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity) route.

DoD officials have argued this would slow down the migration of stuff to the cloud, if it had to compete every task order. Nearly a year ago, then deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan produced a written justification for a single award.

Now, in an odd twist, the lawsuit is on hold. Oracle had filed a detailed motion seeking a summary judgement in its favor. The government asked the judge for a stay and got it. DoD wants to “reconsider” whether the original JEDI planning team included two people with a conflict interest. As Jared Serbu reports, Oracle claims one was Deap Ubhi, a former employee of Defense Digital Service. Earlier of Amazon. And of Amazon again. The other is Anthony DiMartino, Shanahan’s one-time chief of staff. Earlier he’d done consulting for Amazon.

NextGov reported a Pentagon spokesman saying the department has “new information” prompting it to want to revisit the conflict of interest angle.

Over the past year or so, DoD has issued several memos and reports justifying its one-vendor approach. Spokesmen have disagreed with the conflict of interest charges, saying the two people in question were not in a position to steer the solicitation.

Now the questions are:

  • How compelling is the “new information” about conflict of interest?
  • How seriously will DoD look into it? Or will it leave itself open to charges of whitewashing?
  • If the two individuals did operate in a conflict of interest, is DoD prepared to deep-six a tainted solicitation and start all over?
  • If DoD insists on and can justify a one-vendor solution, can it craft a solicitation that passes the smell test of objectivity?

I’ve never quite understood the insistence on a single vendor. I do see why DoD didn’t want an awardee to take on revenue greater than its business before DoD. But for the half dozen or so major cloud providers, $10 billion over 10 years wouldn’t swamp them. To the contrary, it makes DoD a rather minor customer, albeit one with exacting needs and a lot of marquee value. Still, how slow could it be to have a vendor rotation constantly competing for task orders?

As I wrote earlier, the department looks as if it marched into its strategy first, then justified it later.

While the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure project drags, the armed services are moving ahead with their own cloud projects.

So whatever DoD brass decide to do, they need to hurry up.

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