GOP Lawmakers Question Amazon’s Connections to the Pentagon Contract

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WASHINGTON — As the Department of Defense prepares to receive bids for cloud computing work that could generate billions of dollars for Amazon, members of Congress are raising new questions about the company’s efforts to win a $10 billion contract during the Trump administration.

While previously unpublished emails praised Pentagon officials in 2017 and 2018 to several tech executives whose companies have expressed interest in the original contract, particularly Amazon, concerns about the company’s reach appear to have been ignored, according to the emails. documents and interviews.

Forced to rein in Amazon’s and other tech companies’ dominance in consumer markets, two Republican lawmakers take the emails as evidence that Amazon is unfairly using its influence in competing for taxpayer-funded contracts.

Representative Ken Buck of Colorado and Senator Mike Lee of Utah have urged Amazon to testify under oath over whether it was “trying to improperly influence the largest federal contract in history” for the $10 billion project called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI. Move the Pentagon’s computer networks to the cloud. Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

The influence Amazon had in the Trump-era Pentagon was limited. And the company also had a very high-level foe: President Donald J. Trump, while in office. regularly attacked Amazon’s CEO At that time, Jeff Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post. Amazon ultimately lost the JEDI contract awarded to Microsoft in 2019, sparking questions about whether Mr Trump’s hostility to Amazon played a role in the outcome.

But in a victory for the Amazon, Pentagon cancels contract This month is in the midst of a contentious legal battle between Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies for the prize. The Department of Defense quickly announced the launch of a revised cloud program that could secure contracts for Amazon, Microsoft, and possibly other firms, kicking off what was supposed to be an intense lobbying challenge.

Newly released emails and interviews with people familiar with the events described provide a glimpse into the evolving relationship between the Department of Defense and major technology companies as the Pentagon shifts its focus from aircraft, tanks and other hardware to increasingly AI-infused software and initiatives. intelligence and machine learning.

They show that in the months leading up to the JEDI battle, top Pentagon officials and Silicon Valley executives attempted an admirable courtship that led to high-level reach for some firms that would later show interest in the contract. Technology executives used the reach to encourage Mr Trump’s first secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, to adopt cloud-based technology and in at least one case promote their own company’s technology.

During a trip to the West Coast to meet with executives from Apple, Amazon, and Google in the summer of 2017, Mr. Mattis was disturbed when, as he expected, he was exposed to a demonstration of Amazon’s cloud computing products at the company’s Seattle headquarters. According to a former senior Pentagon official familiar with the documents and the meeting, there will be a more general discussion of cloud technology.

The former official said the show was attended by Mr. Bezos and several of his lieutenants, with whom Mattis had just met in person, and was run by an executive responsible for selling products from Amazon Web Services or AWS. to governments.

In the briefing materials prepared before the meeting for Mr. Mattis, “there will be no pitch” and “not” was underlined for emphasis.

But soon after the meeting, an aide to Mr. Mattis’s emailed another Pentagon official, writing that the session had “turned into an AWS pitch.” The assistant wrote that Mr. Mattis was “nice and gracious, but I didn’t get a good vibe from it”, adding that the one-on-one session before the show with Mr. Bezos “goed very well”, adding that Amazon’s founder and secretary of defense “clicks on a personal level.” looks like,” he said.

Competition for the JEDI contract quickly stagnated in fierce competition. While IBM claimed it supported Amazon by protesting the bid request, Oracle claimed Pentagon officials had conflicts of interest with Amazon. When the contract went to Microsoft instead, Amazon sued to block the contract, arguing that the Trump administration interfered with the contracting process because of Mr Trump’s hostility to Mr. Bezos.

An investigation by the Department of Defense inspector general dismissed the most serious allegations that Amazon and Pentagon officials improperly invested the contracting process with the company.

In a report last year, the inspector general concluded that the outcome of the JEDI contract was not affected by Mr Trump’s attacks on Amazon or any links between the company and the Department of Defense.

However, the report did not include expressions of concern about Mr Mattis’ “sales talk” demonstration at Amazon headquarters, as well as expression from an email exchange where a Pentagon official told Mr Mattis to two of his close advisers, the chief of the defense secretary’s office. staff are “postponing” them on whether to accept a request for a meeting at the Pentagon between Amazon’s Mr. Bezos and Mr. Mattis.

One of the close advisers, Sally Donnelly, replied that Mr. Bezos was “the genius of our time, so why not”. Ms. Donnelly worked in the Department of Defense during the Obama administration before starting a consulting firm whose clients included Amazon in 2012. This meeting did not appear to have taken place, and Ms Donnelly later told the inspector general that she had been “flipping” and that Mr. Mattis’ chief of staff had decided which meetings were to be held, not Ms Donnelly’s.

But less than two days after her email describing Mr. Bezos as a genius, Ms. Donnelly compiled a list of seven reasons why Mr. Mattis should meet her. It included that Amazon had hired “many” former US government intelligence professionals, that cloud security was “so convincing” for the Central Intelligence Agency that “the agency took the surprising step two years ago to move most of its secure work to Amazon.” ” and Mr. Bezos owning The Washington Post gave him “an influence beyond business.”

The inspector general did not answer questions about whether certain lines in the emails were omitted or whether these omissions leave an incomplete picture of interactions between the Pentagon and Amazon.

“Our JEDI Cloud Procurement report speaks for itself – we stand by our findings and conclusions,” Dwrena K. Allen, spokesperson for the auditor general, said in a statement.

Ms. Donnelly’s attorney, Michael N. Levy, said in a statement that “it always adheres to all ethical and legal obligations and acts in the best interests of the national security of the United States.”

Mr Levy said efforts to mediate meetings for Mr Mattis and other technology executives were “part of the Department of Defense’s critical efforts to transform in the digital age.”

The 2017 and 2018 emails were published in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by a former Department of Defense inspector general against the department and its inspector general. The events described in them precede the official Pentagon request for proposals for the JEDI contract.

The e-mails show that Mr. Mattis’ aides were also praising senior executives at other companies.

Ms. Donnelly described Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, as “one of the industry’s ‘thought leaders’ and one of the country’s foremost Indian Americans” and noted that it was important that Mr. Mattis met with Mr. Nadella. impartiality.

Another aide, named in the emails, wrote that Milo Medin, a Google executive Mattis met while on a West Coast trip in 2017, was “great.”

Mr. Mattis’ meeting with Apple’s Tim Cook was also “solid”, the aide wrote, adding that the two men “seemed personally compatible, Cook said he was willing (and meant to be) to help as much as he could”. The assistant concluded that “a positive note of the tour, everyone in the various companies” conveyed a friendly ‘patriotic’ tune. I think that might have taken the Boss by surprise a bit.”

A month after the trip, the Pentagon published a memo titled “Enterprise Cloud Adoption Acceleration.”

Mr. Buck, working on two-party invoice pack which passed the Judiciary Committee last month and which, together with Mr. Lee, aimed to weaken Big Tech’s dominance Sending a letter to Mr. Bezos in May It claims that Amazon is trying to “monopolize one or more markets for government and/or commercial cloud computing services by improperly influencing the Common Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement process.”

Them Called the Ministry of Justice To investigate whether Amazon “violated federal conflict of interest and antitrust laws.” And they The Ministry of Defense accused the inspector general Cover up non-compliance with Amazon’s JEDI contract offering.

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