Esper defends as fair Pentagon contract disputed by Amazon

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — United States (US) Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday he was certain that the awarding of a USD10 billion cloud-computing contract to Microsoft instead of Amazon was done fairly. The Pentagon awarded the contract to Microsoft in late October, and Amazon said there was “unmistakable bias” on the government’s part and it intended to challenge the decision in court.

Esper recused himself from the contract decision because his son had worked for one of the other unsuccessful bidders. Asked about the controversy at a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, Esper said there was no “outside influence” on the decision-makers. Amazon’s competitive bid for the “war cloud” project drew criticism from President Donald Trump and its business rivals.

The project, formally called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), pitted leading tech titans Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle and IBM against one another. In a statement on Thursday, Amazon said “numerous aspects” of the bidding process involved “clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias”.

It did not elaborate on those allegations but said “it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified”. Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment. A Defense Department spokeswoman would only say that the Pentagon won’t speculate on potential litigation.

JEDI will store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the United States (US) military to use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities.

Amazon was long thought to be the front-runner for the contract. Its Amazon Web Services division is far ahead of second-place Microsoft in cloud computing, and Amazon has experience handling highly classified government data.

It survived earlier legal challenges after the Defense Department eliminated Oracle and IBM and whittled the competition to the two Seattle-area tech giants before choosing Microsoft in late October.

The Pentagon was preparing to make its final decision when Trump publicly waded into the fray in July, saying he had heard complaints about the process and that the administration would “take a very long look”.

United States (US) Defense Secretary Mark Esper attends a joint press conference with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, after the 51st Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) at the Defense Ministry in Seoul. PHOTO: AP