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Pentagon watchdog unable to 'definitively' determine if White House influenced JEDI contract

Pentagon watchdog unable to 'definitively' determine if White House influenced JEDI contract
© Greg Nash

The Pentagon's watchdog in a report released on Wednesday said it was not able to "definitively determine" whether the White House influenced the Department of Defense's (DOD) decision to award a $10 billion cloud-computing contract to Microsoft over Amazon.

The department's inspector general office said it was unable to rule on the issue because the DOD's general counsel instructed witnesses not to answer questions about conversations between the White House and Pentagon because of “the assertion of a ‘presidential communications privilege.’”

The report did find, however, that department personnel who evaluated proposals and awarded the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract were not pressured by any senior Pentagon leaders.

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The 317-page document also determined that giving the JEDI contract to a single company — Microsoft — rather than dividing it among competitors was “consistent with applicable acquisition standards.”

The Pentagon awarded the lucrative military contract to Microsoft in October of last year.

Amazon quickly filed a lawsuit seeking to halt or overhaul the contract, claiming the process was improperly influenced by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report MORE, who publicly and privately indicated that he did not want the contract to go to Amazon, which is owned by a frequent target of the president's criticism, Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosElon Musk passes Bill Gates to become world's second-richest person in Bloomberg rankings How space exploration will help to address climate change Bezos makes first donations from billion Earth Fund MORE.  

The report released Wednesday also evaluated claims made by Oracle, who had been cut in a previous round of bidding for the contract, that some Pentagon employees were favoring Amazon with unethical behavior.

The watchdog's report added evidence to allegations of ethical misconduct against Deap Ubhi, a Pentagon employee involved in the early stages of the JEDI program who then went to work for Amazon.

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However, the inspector general did not find evidence of ethical misconduct by other senior defense officials, including former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper MORE, who attended a dinner with Amazon officials organized by his former aide Sally Donnelly.

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Robert Carver said in a statement that Wednesday's report "confirms that the Department of Defense conducted the JEDI Cloud procurement process fairly and in accordance with the law."

"The IG's team found that there was no influence by the White House or DoD leadership on the career source selection boards who made the ultimate vendor selection," he said, although the watchdog explicitly said it could not determine the "full extent or nature of interactions" that administration officials had with the DoD over the contract.

"This report should finally close the door on the media and corporate-driven attacks on the career procurement officials who have been working tirelessly to get the much needed JEDI cloud computing environment into the hands of our frontline warfighters while continuing to protect American taxpayers," Carver continued.

Microsoft spokesperson Frank Shaw said that Wednesday's report "makes clear the DoD established a proper procurement process."

“At this stage, Amazon is both delaying critical work for the nation’s military and trying to undo the mistake it made when it bid too high a price," he added in a statement.

Updated: 4:19 p.m.