Senate Dems urge Esper to 'resist political pressures' as he reviews JEDI cloud contract

By Justin Doubleday / August 5, 2019 at 5:17 PM

Two Senate Democrats are seeking more information from new Defense Secretary Mark Esper on a review of the Pentagon's controversial Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud contract, including whether anyone outside DOD directed Esper to undertake the evaluation.

In a letter sent to Esper today, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) and Select Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) urge the Pentagon chief to "take appropriate steps" to ensure the JEDI program award is "pursued in a manner that is consistent with the department's cloud strategy and serves the best interests of taxpayers and execution of DOD missions."

The Pentagon had planned on awarding the JEDI cloud services contract to either Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure this month after the Court of Federal Claims rejected Oracle America's protest against the solicitation. But the award is now on an indefinite hold after Esper announced a new review of the JEDI program last week. President Trump said last month he would "look into" the program after receiving complaints from some companies, including Oracle.

"We appreciate your desire to review this initiative as you take on your new role as secretary, but we urge you to resist political pressures that might negatively affect the implementation of sound acquisition practices and of the cloud strategy," Reed and Warner write to Esper.

They ask Esper to answer, "within the next week," whether anyone outside of DOD directed him to "delay or cancel the JEDI program or the award of this contract." They also ask whether DOD has gotten any new information about the program not previously available to the inspector general, Government Accountability Office or Court of Federal Claims, which have all reviewed complaints related to the JEDI program over the past year.

However, during an Aug. 2 media availability as he was traveling to Sydney, Australia, Esper denied that the White House pushed him to take up the review.

"I was not directed to do it," Esper said, according to the DOD transcript. "I'm looking at all the concerns I've heard from members of Congress, both parties, both sides of the Hill. I've heard from people from the White House as well. I see what you guys are reporting from companies and industry and all that again, there's so much noise out there, that it deserves an honest, thorough look. And I would do it with any program that raised this much consternation, if you will."

Despite the Court of Federal Claims ruling, many Republican lawmakers have urged the White House and the Pentagon to delay the award until the DOD IG can potentially investigate claims that some department employees were biased toward Amazon as they worked on the JEDI program.

Other Republicans, however, including House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-TX) have urged the White House to not delay the award any further.

The JEDI program began in September 2017 when then-Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan directed the establishment of a DOD-wide group to accelerate the department's adoption of commercial cloud services. The initiative has been controversial, however, due to the Pentagon's plan to make just one award for a contract that could last 10 years and cost $10 billion if all options are exercised.