President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at a ceremony honoring the new SedDef at the Pentagon on July 25, 2019. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

New SecDef Undergoing ‘Education’ on JEDI After Trump Complains About Cloud Contract

Pentagon officials said they’re embarking on a multi-faceted education program for the new Defense secretary to “bring to life” the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Program, or JEDI, and the importance of the cloud spanning the needs of the warfighter.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said 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.”

“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,” Trump said. “Not only complaining from the media — or at least asking questions about it from the media — but complaining from different companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM. Great companies are complaining about it.”

On July 22, Trump tweeted video of a Fox News segment alleging that there was a Pentagon conspiracy afoot to award Amazon the contract and declaring it “vital” that Trump kill the contract. Trump frequently attacks Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, on Twitter.

CNN reported last month that Trump was also shown a document alleging such a conspiracy, and that it mirrored a chart — “A Conspiracy to Create a Ten Year DoD Cloud Monopoly” — created by Oracle. A source close to the administration told the network that the president “wants to scuttle this process and possibly reopen it back up again with extra guardrails.” The source also suggested that the fate of JEDI could be a test for Esper.

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

At a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, DoD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy, who leads the department’s digital modernization efforts including the cloud and artificial intelligence, said Esper’s review should not be construed as a “pause” in the program, which still has a target date for final evaluation of “not earlier than August.”

“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.”

That includes “a series of education programs” put together for the secretary, including “a deep conversation of what are the activities we’re trying to solve for, what is the urgency around this, how to support the warfighter” with the cloud. After framing how JEDI fits into overall DoD strategy, the conversation will be “a deep set of discussions on the JEDI program itself: how was it created, who were all the people involved, what were the things that we needed to consider bringing into an RFP [request for proposal] process, how was that constructed, what’s the selection criteria.”

While that educational process unfolds “over the next number of weeks,” DoD will still be “continuing through the technical evaluation process as part of our overall source selection.”

“One of the narratives says that the DOD is doing a single cloud, that we’re going to pick a vendor that’s going to run all the DOD cloud. It’s going to receive a $10 billion award and they’re getting a 10-year contract. So that’s a narrative that’s out there,” Deasey said. “The fact is, we already, today, have a number of clouds. We’re already spending well in excess of half a billion dollars annually on a multiple number of clouds inside the Department of Defense.  The winner of this actually receives $1 million, not $10 billion. It is a two-year contract with a three-year plus two-year extension. And so if you were to execute all the extensions, and if we were to pivot workloads, we believe it could, over a 10-year period, generate up to $10 billion.”

Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director of the DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, stressed that “the warfighter needed enterprise cloud yesterday.”

“Without enterprise cloud, there is no AI at scale. AI will remain a series of small-scale stovepipe projects with little to no means to make AI available or useful to warfighters. That is, it will be too hard to develop, secure, update and use in the field,” he said. “JEDI will provide on-demand, elastic compute at scale, data at scale, substantial network and transport advantages, DevOps and a secure operating environment at all classification levels.”

“…We have spent far too much time over the past two years striving to gain access to data for training our algorithms, updating fielded models, site by site, deriving ad-hoc solutions to bring real-world data back to allow dynamic retraining of fielded models, and cobbling together one-off, bespoke cloud solutions to meet mission requirements.”

Shanahan added that JEDI is not just an issue for AI development but “about joint all-domain war fighting, taking advantage of emerging technologies to develop new operating concepts for a kind of warfare that will look completely different than what we’ve experienced for the past 20 years.”

Pressed about Trump’s tweeting and what could be the effect of political pressure on the contract process, Deasey replied, “All I can say is it is our job right now to educate the secretary as to why we need a cloud. In doing so, we will make it very clear as to what it means to the warfighter — what it means to even, you could say, efficiencies across the Pentagon.”

“In having that conversation, he will have a good understanding of what are the consequences, honestly, if we were to take a decision not to continue with JEDI,” he added. “But I can’t speculate today, nor would it be appropriate for me to try to describe those consequences.”

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.”

“I think what JEDI is going through is common to other large programs. You’re going to have protests. You’re going to have people that are going to weigh in. We have a new secretary. And as I said earlier, I would absolutely expect him, on a program of this scale, to want to completely understand that,” he said. “It’s not a break from the standpoint — we got work to do, we’re continuing with that. We’re not stopping anything. While, at the same time, we are educating the new secretary on this.”

Shanahan emphasized that “we don’t want to waste any more time moving forward because we know our potential adversaries are doing it at their own speed… the level of investment and the number of people they’re putting at the problem, they’re moving at a very rapid pace and what I can’t afford to do is slow down anymore.”

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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