Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper arrives at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Oct., 21, 2019. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)

Defense Secretary Pulls Out of JEDI Cloud Decisions Because of Son’s IBM Job

The secretary of Defense has recused himself from making decisions on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Program, or JEDI, citing his son’s employment at IBM.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in August that he would review the current contracting process after President Trump told reporters on July 18, “I’m getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon.”

Pentagon officials said they would deliver a multi-faceted education program for the new Defense secretary to “bring to life” JEDI and the importance of the cloud spanning the needs of the warfighter.

DoD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy, who leads the department’s digital modernization efforts including the cloud and artificial intelligence, said at the time that Esper’s review should not be construed as a “pause” in the program.

“It’s a highly technical evaluation at this point that we are going through with the finals. That still is going to take a number of weeks to complete, so therefore, the continuation of the JEDI evaluation work has not been paused. That work continues on,” he said. “What is occurring is Secretary Esper has asked to go through a series of sessions to fully comprehend the overall JEDI program.”

Deasey said he’s “not going to try to predict an end date” because “it’s all going to be to the level of depth we go into, to the number of follow-up questions and follow-up actions [Esper will] give us” through the “iterative process.”

Finalists for the cloud computing contract are Amazon and Microsoft; Oracle was eliminated earlier in the process and challenged the decision in court.

IBM lost its appeal on their contract rejection in December, before Esper said that he would be taking another look at the contract process per the president’s urging. In February, the secretary’s son Luke Esper began working as a digital strategy consultant with IBM Services.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a statement today that in the review process Esper “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.”

“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,” Hoffman said. “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 [David] Norquist.”

“The JEDI procurement will continue to move to selection through the normal acquisition process run by career acquisition professionals.“

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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