New Pentagon chief orders review of 'war cloud' contract after Trump threats

Mark EsperMark EsperHillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Pentagon dismisses Amazon questions over Esper's recusal in 'war cloud' case MORE, the newly appointed Pentagon chief, ordered a review of the Defense Department's "war cloud" contract after President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE threatened to investigate whether it was written with a bias toward Amazon.

A Department of Defense (DOD) spokeswoman confirmed the probe in a statement on Thursday.

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"Keeping his promise to Members of Congress and the American public, Secretary Esper is looking at the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program," Elissa Smith, the DOD spokeswoman, said, referring to the highly controversial $10 billion cloud-computing contract.

"No decision will be made on the program until he has completed his examination," she added.

Esper was sworn in as Defense secretary late last month, after the Senate confirmed him in a 90-8 vote.

"Secretary Esper is committed to ensuring our warfighters have the best capabilities, including artificial intelligence, to remain the most lethal force in the world, while safeguarding taxpayer dollars," Smith said.

Esper's investigation comes two years after the JEDI contract was announced, and months into a bitter battle between some of the country's largest tech companies over who will get to profit from the deal.

Trump raised the stakes a few weeks ago when he said publicly he would order his administration to look “closely” at allegations that the DOD favored Amazon when it drew up the contract.

“Some of the greatest companies in the world are complaining about it, having to do with Amazon and the Department of Defense," Trump said, adding, “I have had very few things where there’s been such complaining." 

A stream of Republican lawmakers have sent letters to Trump in the weeks since, with some — including Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTom Hanks weighs in on primary: 'Anybody can become president' GOP senator blocks bill aimed at preventing Russia election meddling Group of veterans call on lawmakers to support impeachment, 'put country over politics' MORE (R-Fla.) — urging him to delay the contract over the bias allegations while others — including the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the DOD — emphasized there is little evidence to substantiate any allegations of unfair treatment.

Amazon and Microsoft's cloud-computing services are the final contenders for the contract, which is expected to supercharge DOD's war capabilities, including on the battlefield. Amazon Web Services has been largely favored to win the lucrative deal, as it says it is best-equipped to store the necessary top-secret and highly classified information.

Some analysts have predicted Microsoft's cloud-computing service, Azure, could be brought on to accompany Amazon within a few years even if Amazon gets the deal.

The battle over JEDI has been the subject of over a year of intensive lobbying by companies including Microsoft, Amazon and Oracle, a smaller cloud-computing competitor which has accused the DOD of favoring Amazon due to conflicts of interest.

The DOD has responded that Oracle did not meet the standards laid out by the JEDI contract, and a federal judge earlier this month ruled Oracle did not have evidence to substantiate its claims.

Several government investigations have concluded that the contract was drawn up fairly.

But Esper's probe could elongate the already-stalled effort. The contract was supposed to be doled out by the end of August.

Amazon and Microsoft declined to comment on Thursday.

Updated at 5:10 p.m.