DOD wants more transparency in AWS protest

Unsealed Monday, the lawsuit filed by Amazon Web Services over the Defense Department’s JEDI cloud infrastructure contract was just as notable for what was blacked out as for what could be seen and interpreted.

Attorneys for DOD and the Justice Department have evidently taken notice. In an objection filed Tuesday to the Court of Federal Claims, DOD and DOJ lawyers asked the judge overseeing the case to reject AWS’ redactions and order the company to file a less-redacted version.

The current and very redacted version of AWS’ complaint blacks out entire pages of text. DOJ and DOD attorneys said in their filing that those redactions violates laws and court rules that demand a presumption of public access to judicial records and created an “information imbalance” regarding what the public knows about the case.

What is known so far is that AWS is claiming political influence by President Donald Trump and other senior DOD officials as directly affecting the source selection process. Microsoft was awarded the contract on Oct. 17 with the formal announcement made Oct. 25. AWS said on Nov. 14 that it would go to the Court of Federal Claims and initial details of the lawsuit trickled out on Nov. 22.

Certain aspects of the case fall under a protective order issued by Judge Patricia E. Campbell Smith on Nov. 26 given the nature of the contract. But attorneys for the government claim that AWS blacked out some details about how its JEDI proposal was evaluated by DOD but did not protect the same information for how Microsoft was scored. AWS' complaint does not list the price it offered but says Microsoft's bid was at around $678.5 million.

DOJ and DOD attorneys believe information regarding pricing, evaluations and other ratings in the source selection process should be made public and claim those details are typically released in bid protest cases.

AWS filed the complaint to the publicly-available court records system after their attorneys and those representing the government did not reach an agreement on redactions, according to the DOD-DOJ filing.

One of the redactions takes out the link and author's name, but leaves in the headline for this story by our sister publication FCW in June 2017 about AWS’ cloud contract with the CIA. That story written by FCW Editor-in-Chief Troy Schneider is based on public remarks by the agency’s chief information officer about their collaboration on the project.

That is one of several redactions which cryptically point to the so-called C2S contract. Attorneys for the government acknowledged in their filing that AWS blacked out a “significant quantity of material based on alleged restrictions pursuant to another contract.”

DOJ and DOD attorneys are not objecting to those redactions for now, but cautioned that they are doing their own research on the contract.

AWS is not seeking an injunction for now to halt performance on the contract but DOD has told the court it will largely stick to initial preparatory work including discussions with Microsoft until at least Feb. 11, 2020.

That includes a kickoff meeting with Microsoft scheduled for Wednesday, DOD Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told reporters on Tuesday at the Pentagon.

DOD Chief Information officer Dana Deasy told Defense News in an interview posted Sunday that the department sees JEDI’s unclassified portions going live by February. Deasy also defended the process in the same manner as he did to Senate lawmakers after the award was made.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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