Technology

Emails indicate Amazon’s use of force while seeking JEDI cloud contract, GOP lawmakers say

The Pentagon. (GeekWire File Photo)

Previously undisclosed emails appear to indicate that as Amazon pursued the now-canceled $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, it enlisted such an array of Defense Department influencers that a pair of Republican lawmakers now want company officials to explain their potential “improper” influence on the failed deal.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said emails disclosed in a New York Times report reveal that top DoD aides lavished praise on the cloud-computing giant — so much so that it made at least one prominent Trump administration official wary.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the report said, “grew uncomfortable” at one Seattle meeting in 2017 with then-CEO Jeff Bezos and other top Amazon executives when what was supposed to be a straightforward technical explainer session about cloud computing turned into an AWS sales pitch for the largest federal contract in history. JEDI, or Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, was billed as a massive project to migrate the Pentagon’s computing infrastructure and data to the cloud.

In a 10-page letter sent to Amazon in May, Rep. Buck and Sen. Lee expressed concerns about the way Amazon went about its pursuit of the contract which also was sought by Microsoft, Google, and Oracle.

“Specifically, we are concerned that Amazon may have attempted to monopolize one or more markets relating to government and/or commercial cloud computing services by improperly influencing the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement process,” the pair wrote in the May 4 query.

The persuasive effect appears to have been limited, however.

The Pentagon canceled the JEDI contract last week after a long legal battle between Amazon and Microsoft, which initially won the bidding process in 2019. Amazon had protested the Microsoft winning bid, alleging that Trump’s personal animus toward the company improperly influenced the outcome.

Regardless, the disclosed emails reveal the high-pressure tactics all of the tech giants bring to bear when billions of dollars in government money are at stake. One former DoD official who became an Amazon lobbyist referred to Bezos as, “the genius of our age….” in her attempt to arrange a meeting between the Amazon founder and Mattis.

According to the Times, the recently released emails “provide a glimpse into the evolving relationship between the Defense Department and the big technology companies at a time when the Pentagon is increasingly shifting its focus from planes, tanks and other hardware to software and initiatives involving artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

Specifically, the communication reveals how much pressure and flattery Amazon and Silicon Valley executives were prepared to deliver to become the DoD’s top cloud provider. Mattis and other Defense Department aides also met with teams from Google, Microsoft, and Oracle.

After the contract was awarded to Microsoft, the Defense Department’s inspector general investigated the communication and lobbying that led to the decision. At the time, the inspector general determined that neither Amazon nor DoD officials unfairly influenced the decision for or against Amazon.

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