AWS files sealed JEDI protest, but puts Trump at center of its case

Amazon Web Services' protest of the Defense Department's award of the JEDI cloud infrastructure contract made it to court Friday. While mostly sealed, some early cards in AWS' hand are evident, including claims of undue influence from President Trump.

Amazon Web Services filed its protest of the Defense Department’s high-profile JEDI cloud infrastructure contract with the Court of Federal Claims late Friday afternoon.

But the full complaint against DOD’s selection last month of Microsoft over AWS for the contract is sealed for now, so not much else is known for the reasoning behind the protest except AWS’ prior statement Nov. 14 that it would go to the court.

A spokesperson for AWS confirmed the filing. Microsoft has filed as an intervenor to the protest given the software giant’s status as the winner.

DOD’s response to the protest is due to the court by Jan. 21. The case has been assigned to Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith.

Based on AWS’ initial statement that it would protest, the company’s case will center around allegations of political influence in the award. That likely is a reference to President Donald Trump’s public criticisms of Amazon and its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post.

An alleged comment in a new book about former Defense Secretary James Mattis goes much deeper. That book claims Trump told Mattis to “screw Amazon” out of a JEDI award. But the book also claims Mattis told his staff afterward that ‘We’re not going to do that. This will be done by the book, both legally and ethically.’”

The vast majority of post-award bid protests go first to the Government Accountability Office, which can only issue recommendations for agencies and has a narrow scope of acquisition process issues it can examine. By comparison, the Court of Federal Claims has much greater authority to enforce decisions and can examine a broader scope of issues that would seemingly include political influence.

In fact, an unsealed document in AWS’ filing lists videos of two speeches by Trump as being part of the company’s case. The first video is of this 2016 speech at an election campaign rally in Texas where Trump criticized Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post.

Video clip number two AWS cites mentions remarks Trump made to the press in July of this year. While not specific, that reference is almost certainly to this comment Trump made July 18 that he asked the Pentagon to “look at it very closely to see what’s going on.”

Trump said then that he heard “tremendous complaints” that the contract was tilted toward AWS and there was “complaining from different companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM.”

Trump's inclusion of Microsoft in there is curious given the company did submit a bid. Microsoft did criticize the controversial single-award approach for JEDI after its inception two years ago. But later on, Microsoft confirmed it would bid and at several other junctures has touted its relationship with the U.S. military: just as it did again in an emailed statement to WT through a spokesperson on Friday.

"We're ready to get to work so the men and women in uniform who serve our country can access the critical new technology they urgently require. We have confidence in the qualified staff at the Department of Defense, and we believe the facts will show they ran a detailed, thorough and fair process in determining the needs of the warfighter were best met by Microsoft," the statement said.

Oracle and IBM had submitted bids for JEDI but were removed in a prior downselect that narrowed the field from four bidders to two in Microsoft and AWS.

Oracle has lost both an initial protest to GAO over that elimination and an appeal over that ruling to the Court of Federal Claims. The company has since taken its grievances to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in a case where AWS is listed as an intervenor-defendant alongside DOD.

Back to the AWS filing with the Court of Federal Claims. Video exhibit number three the company lists is the Oct. 29 testimony of DOD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy to the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he defended and sought to explain the department’s process for the JEDI acquisition.

The filing is not clear regarding which part of Deasy’s comments is in question. But Deasy did tell the committee he feels “very confident” that none of the team members involved in the source selection “were influenced with anything external, including the White House.”

Video exhibit number four is this Fox News segment aired July 21 as part of the channel’s “Swamp Watch” feature. That segment essentially claimed the fix was in for Amazon to win JEDI via the company’s lobbying efforts and alleged improper contacts with DOD officials -- the central crux of Oracle’s case against JEDI.

Oracle’s main goal is to make DOD start all over again with its cloud infrastructure buy but with a multiple-award contract.