SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — One day before Amazon chief Jeff Bezos gave a keynote address at the Reagan National Defense Forum, never uttering the word “JEDI,” the Pentagon’s chief information officer spoke with great confidence that Amazon’s protest of the department’s enterprise cloud contract award will go nowhere.

In the meantime, CIO Dana Deasy confirmed to Defense News during an exclusive interview that the Department of Defense is moving full speed ahead with its choice of Microsoft to serve the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program — otherwise known as JEDI.

He also said that the first phase of the rollout — the unclassified cloud environment — should be available in February 2020.

“We’ve been through this very long, drawn-out process now. We’ve gone from GAO [the Government Accountability Office] to Federal Claims Court to the [inspector general]. In each and all cases, we’ve come out in a very positive position, as we always felt strongly we would,” Deasy said. “What was somewhat frustrating is we brought together some world-class people to create this vision of a large-scale cloud that you could provision, that you could use to develop [software] differently, that you could put out in the tactical edge and that could support AI. Those same people were constantly being pulled in to have to address all the issues around the protest.”

Indeed, the contract award was delayed for months due to a protest and court case filed by Oracle, which levied several conflict of interest allegations against competitor Amazon. Oracle’s case is currently in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, having lost in a lower court. In November, Federal Times broke the story about Amazon’s plans to protest the JEDI award to Microsoft through the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, obtaining a video of Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy at an all-hands meeting with Amazon Worldwide stating that the company will “push the government to shine a light on what really happened.”

A redacted version of the AWS complaint alleges that the DoD source-selection team made several “egregious” and “unfounded” decisions during the cloud award, ultimately not complying with the contents of its own request for proposals.

The complaint also tied the decision to several disparaging statements made by President Donald Trump about Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.

“These shifts in the DoD evaluators’ assessments of AWS’s proposal, including the significance of AWS’s security advantages, occurred as President Trump increased the intensity of his public attacks against Mr. Bezos, Amazon/AWS, and the Washington Post,” the complaint reads.

On Dec. 7, Bezos spoke during a fireside chat at the Reagan National Defense Forum, but he did not address the controversial cloud contract.

Unlike protests filed in the GAO, protests filed in federal court do not bring an automatic stay in performance. But regardless of regulatory standards, moving forward with Microsoft introduces a risk that a stay later in the process could be more disruptive.

Nonetheless, Deasy said he never considered a delay in performance.

“Never. From the beginning, the way we constructed the teams and organized how to write the RFP to where we are today, there was such deep consideration and due diligence — making sure we followed all the regulations,” he said. “I’ve told the team: ‘Let’s just not sit and wait. Let’s start to get the environment ready so when we come out of the protest, we haven’t lost any momentum.’ ”

Messaging problems

That’s not to say the Pentagon hasn’t learned from all this. Early on, JEDI became branded as a 10-year, $10 billion opportunity. The Pentagon did not do enough to stomp out that depiction, Deasy said.

“I’ve seen this over my 38 years of being involved in technology: If you don’t convey your message right, the media can start to take a message that you intend to be ‘X,’ and the next thing you know you’re sitting way over here in 'Y' territory,” he said. “This was a two-year initial contract, of which the only money we put out initially is $1 million. The rest is all dependent on how fast Department of Defense starts to consume the capability.”

Deasy points to what he calls “breakpoints” in the contract to be able to reevaluate, and he said the DoD is, and will remain, a multi-cloud environment. There must be more than one cloud provider to satisfy the needs of the unclassified environment in particular, he added, because “it’s too big, it’s too broad for any one vendor to handle.”

But the many disparate, individual clouds that currently exist — what Deasy described as “this mess” — was also not a winning hand. Step one was making sense of what was already in place.

“Guess what? We don't know how to do enterprise cloud at that scale, so we need to find a partner,” he said. “We need to start with somebody."

The DoD is now getting ready to stand up the unclassified environment, which Deasy expects will be ready by mid-February. The department will start with what he calls “the bare minimum we need to be able to stand up a real capability that the services can use.”

More and more services will be added as time goes on. Artificial intelligence components will roll in at the same time but, again, with an understanding that more will come, that data will be refined and that the initial rollout won’t have “a high degree of perfection.”

The secret environment will be ready about six months after the unclassified environment. The timeline for the top-secret environment is a little less clear, depending not only on how the protest plays out, but also how quickly and smoothly the initial two environments roll out.

“It’s not only the fact that there’s an unclassified, a secret and a top-secret environment,” Deasy said. “This is CONUS; this is OCONUS; and this is out to the tactical edge. So this is like a 3x3 dimension that we have to solve for. This will be the first time the Department of Defense will truly have that capability. That is what is unique.”

Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.

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