Pentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe

Pentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe
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SYDNEY — Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Watchdog investigating VA chief | Allegations claim Wilkie tried to discredit aide who reported sexual assault | Dem chair working to restore Pentagon funding taken for wall | Navy chief says loss of shipbuilding funds 'not helpful' House Armed Services chairman working on bill to restore Pentagon funding taken for border wall Bipartisan senators say Pentagon's effort to improve military housing falls short MORE said Saturday he ordered a review of the Pentagon’s “war cloud” contract after hearing concerns from lawmakers and the White House but maintained he was not ordered to open the probe following President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE's criticism of the potential deal.

“I was not directed to do it,” Esper said of the Defense Department’s new probe into its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program, a highly controversial $10 billion cloud computing contract.

“I’m looking at all the concerns I’ve heard from members of Congress, both parties, both sides of the Hill. I’ve heard from people from the White House as well. There’s so much noise out there that it deserves an honest, thorough look,” he told reporters while traveling to attend the Australia-United State Ministerial Consultations in Sydney.

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Esper's comments came days after he ordered the review following Trump’s threats to investigate the JEDI contract over whether it was written with a bias toward Amazon, a company the president has previously targeted.

Amazon Web Services is largely favored to win the highly sought Defense Department deal, though Microsoft is also in the running.

The two companies’ cloud computing services are the final contenders for the contract — first announced two years ago — which is intended to up the Pentagon’s war capabilities and store top-secret and highly classified information.

Trump on July 18 said he would ask the Pentagon to look “very closely” at allegations that the Defense Department favored Amazon when it drew up the contract.

“I’m getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “They’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid. ... And I will be asking [the Pentagon] to look at it very closely to see what’s going on because I have had very few things where there’s been such complaining.”

Esper, who was sworn in as Pentagon chief on July 23, said that while it’s important for the war fighter to receive the latest cloud technology, he must make sure “that the process was done fairly, properly, it was competitively bid, and all those things, because I have responsibilities to the taxpayers to be a good steward.”

Coming in as the new Defense secretary, “I need to give it a good, thorough look to make sure I’m comfortable with what has transpired over the last months or years on this project before I decide to go forward, go in a different direction, whatever the case may be,” he added.

Amazon and Microsoft have launched an intense lobbying effort over the past year in an effort to win the JEDI contract.

Republican lawmakers earlier this month issued dueling letters on the potential deal, with one group calling for a contract to be delayed amid concerns that it favors Amazon above other companies. The other group — which includes House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Watchdog investigating VA chief | Allegations claim Wilkie tried to discredit aide who reported sexual assault | Dem chair working to restore Pentagon funding taken for wall | Navy chief says loss of shipbuilding funds 'not helpful' House Armed Services chairman working on bill to restore Pentagon funding taken for border wall Overnight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions MORE (R-Texas) — insists that the cloud computing contract should be wrapped up by this summer, as there is little evidence to substantiate any allegations of unfair treatment.

Several government investigations have already found that the contract, which is meant to be awarded in August, was drawn up fairly, though the new probe will likely push the award date further out.