The multi-billion Pentagon cloud computing contract that has been fought over by tech behemoths Amazon and Microsoft, with the latter coming out on top, was handled appropriately and was in compliance with regulations, according to a Defense Department Inspector General report published on Wednesday.
While the report said that the IG investigation was unable to find any evidence of White House interference in the process, the report noted that Pentagon lawyers blocked witnesses from providing information about their communications with the White House about the hotly contested contract.
“When we sought to interview Secretary Esper and Deputy Secretary Norquist, the DoD OGC advised us that they would not answer questions related to any communications with President (Donald) Trump, members of the President’s staff, or other White House officials,” the IG report says, referring to the Defense Department’s Office of General Counsel.
“The witnesses were instructed not to answer any questions about communications between DoD officials and the President or White House officials regarding the JEDI contract,” the report added.
The IG report does say that while the Defense Department lawyers eventually told the investigators that White House lawyers would be willing to provide some written responses to questions, the investigators did not accept those terms, saying “written responses would not allow for direct follow-up questions and would not ensure that we received direct answers from the witnesses.”
Amazon Web Services lost the contract to Microsoft’s Azure cloud business in October following a late Pentagon review, a decision that surprised many industry experts. Amazon filed a suit with the US Court of Federal Claims contesting the decision, arguing that it was politically motivated by Trump’s dislike of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post, which Bezos owns.
However despite allegations that the White House pushed the contract to Microsoft the report said that the investigation found “that the DoD personnel who evaluated the contract proposals and awarded Microsoft the JEDI Cloud contract were not pressured regarding their decision on the award of the contract by any DoD leaders more senior to them, who may have communicated with the White House.”
The report did say that the investigators “could not definitively determine the full extent or nature of interactions that administration officials had, or may have had, with senior DoD officials regarding the JEDI Cloud procurement because of the assertion of a ‘presidential communications privilege,’ which resulted in several DoD witnesses being instructed by the DoD Office of General Counsel not to answer our questions about potential communications between White House and DoD officials about JEDI.”
The Pentagon issued a statement welcoming the report’s findings while ignoring the report’s comments about Defense Department lawyers prohibiting defense officials from being asked questions about communications with the White House.
“The Inspector’s General final report on the JEDI Cloud procurement confirms that the Department of Defense conducted the JEDI Cloud procurement process fairly and in accordance with law,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver said in a statement.
He added that “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.”
The Pentagon’s declaration of victory comes about a month after it told a court handling a challenge that it wished “to reconsider its award decision in response to the other technical challenges presented by AWS,” it said in a court filing, referring to Amazon Web Services.
The contract – called Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI – involves providing cloud storage of sensitive military data and technology, such as artificial intelligence, to the Department of Defense, and could result in revenue of up to $10 billion over 10 years.