Did Trump Help Microsoft Win a $10B Defense Contract Over Amazon?

The JEDI cloud-computing contract was finally awarded. Now it might be challenged.

The Pentagon
The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense which finally awarded the JEDI contract.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
By Alex Lauer / October 29, 2019 1:44 pm

For all the talk of drone and cyber warfare, the United States military is still playing catch-up in the technology department. Thankfully, they’re phasing out floppy disks in the nuclear arsenal. But even more importantly, the Pentagon just took a crucial step in modernizing its cloud-computing systems.

On Friday, the Department of Defense awarded a contract to Microsoft for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (otherwise known as JEDI), which could amount to a 10-year deal worth $10 billion. The decision came as a shock to many in the industry, as Amazon was considered the favorite for most of the year-long bidding process. So what changed?

As The New York Times writes, the public feud between President Donald Trump and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos could have swayed the decision. Although, if there was undue political influence on the president’s part, according to MIT Technology Review, that may give Amazon grounds to sue the Defense Department. After all, as the publication previously wrote, JEDI is “one of the most lucrative defense contracts ever,” so this is business worth fighting for.

While Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Google were all interested in the contract, it came down to the brainchildren of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates after the Department of Defense nixed the others for various reasons. As the Times explains, only Amazon and Microsoft met the technical requirements, and Google never submitted a formal bid because “the military work conflicted with its corporate principles, which preclude the use of artificial intelligence in weaponry.” The others didn’t have that problem.

Will Amazon be successful in its case if it decides to sue? That remains to be seen, but as the Times notes, “… a speechwriter for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says in a book scheduled for publication next week that Mr. Trump had wanted to foil Amazon and give the contract to another company.”

If that claim has merit, this contentious contract may be drawn out even longer.

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