WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense will continue to defend its contentious Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud contract in court after signaling earlier this year that the program’s future was uncertain, according to court documents filed Friday.
The Pentagon’s decision to continue defending the JEDI contract is unexpected after the department stated in January it would reassess the program if the court decided to hear Amazon Web Services’ allegations of political interference by President Donald Trump. In late April the U.S. Court of Federal Claims declined to toss out those allegations.
Documents filed Friday afternoon indicate that at least several more months of litigation are expected in the lawsuit, which AWS filed after it lost the contract to Microsoft in October 2019. Under one scenario posed by the department, the case would continue into at least October, two years after it originally awarded Microsoft the contract.
In a statement, a Pentagon spokesperson Russ Goemaere said the filing, called a Joint Status Report, was a “standard filing in any litigation.”
“The filing merely reflects the proposed schedule for further proceedings in the case, as directed by the Court’s April 28, 2021 Order,” Goemaere said. “Nothing about this procedural filing changes our previous statements regarding our commitment to establish an enterprise cloud capability for the Department — we hope through JEDI — but the DoD’s requirements transcend any one procurement.”
AWS’ lawyers proposed a slower timeline in an effort to collect more evidence of an alleged anti-Amazon bias in the award decision. AWS argued in the filings that the department is withholding Slack messages and emails that would affect the scope of the discovery process. The cloud giant states that it wants to “ensure the record is complete for a fair and full adjudication” of the case.
The DoD meanwhile argued for a faster timeline, stating that AWS’ proposal for a slower schedule does “ongoing harm to national security or continued delay in fielding these critical capabilities.”
“The passage of over 18 months since this bid protest was filed serves to increase the urgency of expeditious resolution now, not reduce it,” DoD lawyers wrote of AWS’ protest filed in December 2019.
The JEDI cloud, a contract worth up to $10 billion over a decade, has been the cornerstone of the department’s digital modernization strategy. Senior IT officials have stated for years that JEDI cloud would deliver the department the computing power to develop artificial intelligence tools broadly, as well as give war fighters access to mass amounts of data across different security classification levels on the battlefield.
AWS rebuts the DoD’s national security argument by citing numerous public statements from senior DoD officials detailing how the department worked with services and combatant commands to mitigate national security harm.
In response, DoD lawyers wrote “AWS’s attempt to leverage this noble calling for its own self-serving interests merely underscores the need for this Court to fully, fairly, and expeditiously adjudicate AWS’s allegations so that the DoD may field the tools necessary to achieve its critical mission.”
Despite Microsoft’s win in 2019, JEDI cloud implementation never started. In early 2020, the court ruled that AWS’ case had merit and placed a hold on Microsoft and Pentagon teams building JEDI, a major blow for a cloud platform that is supposed to host 80 percent of DoD systems. Last year, the department decided it would reconsider its award to Microsoft but later re-affirmed its choice.
In Friday’s filing, Microsoft backed the department’s effort to move forward with the JEDI cloud and called for a prompt decision.
“Despite the fact that it remains unclear when the case will be decided, Microsoft has continued to invest in the program, has remained ready to perform, and is incurring continuing costs, while losing anticipated revenue,” Microsoft’s lawyers wrote. “Microsoft objects to Amazon’s tactics aimed at prolonging the duration of this protest — despite the needs of our military and the significant national security interests at stake.”
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.