In a blow to Microsoft and the Defense Department, Campbell-Smith ordered the Pentagon to halt work on JEDI. In a lengthy opinion explaining her reasoning, she sided with Amazon’s contention that the Pentagon made a mistake in evaluating prices for competing proposals from Amazon and Microsoft. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
She also said the mistake is likely to harm Amazon materially, an important qualifier for government contract bid protests. She rejected arguments raised earlier by Microsoft and the Defense Department that Amazon should have raised its concerns sooner.
A Defense Department spokesman expressed disappointment in the ruling but declined to comment on its specifics.
“We remain focused on getting this critical capability into the hands of our warfighters as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.
Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw downplayed the ruling, saying it focused on a single technical factor.
“The decision disagreed with a lone technical finding by the Department of Defense about data storage under the evaluation of one sub-element of one price scenario,” Shaw said in a statement. “While important, there were six pricing scenarios, each with multiple sub-elements, and eight technical factors, each with numerous subfactors evaluated during the procurement. The decision does not find error in the Department of Defense’s evaluation in any other area of the complex and thorough process that resulted in the award of the contract to Microsoft.”
Shaw further defended the Defense Department’s handling of JEDI, adding: “We have confidence in our technology, our bid, and the professional staff at the Department of Defense.”
Amazon representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday’s ruling. Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said previously it is “common practice” to halt contract performance during a bid protest, adding “it’s important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impact the JEDI award decision be reviewed.”
Campbell-Smith has not yet ruled on Amazon’s contention that Trump interfered personally in the bidding process, and the opinion published Friday did not mention the president by name.
The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract, better known as JEDI, calls for a powerful cloud computing system through which military agencies can harness data centers operated by a commercial tech company. Top defense officials labeled it a crucial national security priority that will improve deployed troops’ access to technology and intelligence and lay the groundwork for the military’s adoption of artificial intelligence. It has been delayed repeatedly since it was first announced in early 2018.
In its bid protest, Amazon accused Trump of interfering improperly to spike its bid. It cited numerous public statements Trump has made against the company and Bezos, going back to the early days of his campaign. It asked to depose Trump in the bid protest, along with Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Pentagon Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy and others.
At issue is whether the president ― through the weight of his public statements against Amazon or through more direct means ― caused the Pentagon’s procurement professionals to downgrade Amazon’s bid.
Shortly before the contract was awarded to Microsoft, Trump directed newly installed Esper to review the company’s broader approach to JEDI, citing concerns the contract would go to Amazon, people familiar with the matter told The Post at the time.
Defense officials and spokespeople have insisted Trump did not “order” Esper to arrive at any specific determination. Just weeks before the award was made, Esper deferred decision-making authority to Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, who in turn relied on teams of lower-level officials at the Pentagon to evaluate the two companies’ competing proposals.
Court filings revealed Esper held several meetings with Defense Department officials directly involved in the JEDI procurement process before his recusal, raising questions about why he didn’t recuse himself sooner.
Amazon seized on a last-minute change to the Defense Department’s specifications for the data centers that would power the JEDI contract. Amazon hoped to rely on existing data centers it uses to support the CIA but was disallowed from doing so thanks to the change, Amazon said in court filings. That change increased Amazon’s price by an undisclosed percentage, according to court records.
Amazon has accused Trump of launching “repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks” against it, arguing the legitimacy of the entire government procurement process is at risk. In legal documents, the company said Trump’s conduct in relation to JEDI is part of a broader pattern of interfering with defense funds for personal or political gain, likening the case to a Trump-linked construction firm winning a $400 million border wall contract along with the withholding of military aid from Ukraine that led to Trump’s impeachment.
Esper recently told the trade publication Defense One the White House did not “pressure” him on JEDI, although he declined to comment on his discussions with the JEDI procurement professionals.
“The decision to conduct a review early on is a decision I made — I made — based on as I conducted my rounds on The Hill before my nomination process, I heard a lot from members on both sides of the aisle. Obviously, a lot was in the media as well,” Esper said, according to Defense One. “I knew that it was something I needed to learn a great deal about."