WASHINGTON ― The House Armed Services Committee Democrats on Wednesday defeated a Republican proposal calling for the Pentagon to share details with Congress about its cancelled $10 billion cloud computing contract. The party-line vote was 28-30.
The failed proposal came as Republicans, and some Democrats, have raised questions about whether Amazon tried to improperly influence the competition for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract. In July, the New York Times reported on emails showing that an Amazon consultant turned Pentagon adviser pushed for a meeting between then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
The Department of Defense’s inspector general found in April that DoD’s award of JEDI to Microsoft over Amazon in 2019 didn’t violate any laws. The Pentagon subsequently announced in July it was canceling JEDI and replacing it with a new enterprise cloud contract that will likely include direct awards to Microsoft and Amazon next year.
During Wednesday’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., proposed an amendment that would have required the DoD inspector general to submit to HASC all the documentation it collected and reviewed. He questioned the IG report’s credibility, alleging some of the emails it cited had been “edited and manipulated.”
“There have been allegations of corruption since JEDI’s inception, and recently the DoD Inspector General’s report has come under criticism,” said Banks, the top Republican on the cyber, innovative technologies, and information systems subcommittee.
The ensuing debate featured a tense exchange between HASC Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. Smith, leading opposition to the amendment, argued sharing the documents would slow the Pentagon’s follow-on enterprise cloud program by infusing it with the same toxic politics that encumbered JEDI.
“Politics came in because it was a $10 billion contract, and everybody wanted that money,” Smith said. “We can pull it back open again and have all those people go back at each other and restart the food fight, or we can move forward and actually get moving on the cloud.”
Gaetz told Smith, “I appreciate the gentleman from Washington making the pro-Amazon argument.” Smith cut him off and later responded that he had never supported Amazon and that Amazon’s competitor, Microsoft, is also based in Washington state.
Smith said Gaetz had made his point for him. “You were clearly, unequivocally, making the political argument that my argument must have less validity to it because I’m close to where Amazon is. That is exactly what happened over and over and over again as we tried to actually just move forward with the contract.”
Andrew Eversden contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.