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

Mark EsperMark EsperJapan's Hormuz dilemma Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces Top Pence aide Alyssa Farah to become Pentagon press secretary MORE, the newly appointed Pentagon chief, ordered a review of the Defense Department's "war cloud" contract after President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren unveils Native American policy plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police Don't let other countries unfairly tax America's most innovative companies 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 RubioThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Top Foreign Affairs Republican: 'It would benefit all of us' for Omar, Tlaib to visit Israel 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.