- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Defense Secretary Mark Esper will not make the final decision on the Pentagon’s high-stakes $10 billion cloud-computing contract because of conflicts of interest, officials said Tuesday.

Defense Department officials said Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist will make the call on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, adding another layer of intrigue to a process that’s sparked controversy inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Esper began a review of the JEDI contract process shortly after taking over at the Pentagon in late July.

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“As part of this review process he attended informational briefings to ensure he had a full understanding of the JEDI program and the universe of options available to DoD to meet its cloud computing needs,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a statement Tuesday. “Although not legally required to, he has removed himself from participating in any decision making following the information meetings, due to his adult son’s employment with one of the original contract applicants.”

“Out of an abundance of caution to avoid any concerns regarding his impartiality, Secretary Esper has delegated decision making concerning the JEDI Cloud program to Deputy Secretary Norquist,” the statement continued. “The JEDI procurement will continue to move to selection through the normal acquisition process run by career acquisition professionals.”

The JEDI contract — which could last up to 10 years and ultimately be worth $10 billion over the life of the deal — would cover the storage and processing of huge amounts of classified Pentagon data, and the winner would be linked in an unprecedented high-tech partnership with the U.S. military. The cloud, its proponents say, would enable the immediate sharing of data to battlefields around the world and would greatly aid the U.S. military in virtually everything it does.

But the JEDI process has been marred by allegations of conflicts of interest. Only Amazon Web Services and Microsoft remain in the bidding for the deal, and critics charge that the Defense Department worked behind the scenes with Amazon and structured the contract in a way that favors the company.

The Pentagon has vehemently denied those allegations.

Oracle Corp., which initially expressed interest in the deal, filed a lawsuit alleging behind-the-scenes dealings between Amazon and the Pentagon. A judge last summer dismissed that lawsuit.

Mr. Trump, an outspoken Amazon critic, has publicly raised concerns about the process.

“I’m getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon. They’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid,” Mr. Trump said in July. “And I will be asking them 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.”

Shortly after those comments, Mr. Esper launched his review. It’s unclear when Mr. Norquist will make a final decision on JEDI.

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