Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 5 April 2020

US judge blocks Microsoft’s $10bn Pentagon cloud computing contract

Amazon had filed a lawsuit alleging its bid was not fairly judged due to interference from President Donald Trump

The Pentagon building in Washington, DC. A federal judge temporarily blocked the US military from awarding the multibillion-dollar 'Jedi' contract to Microsoft, after Amazon claimed the process was tainted by politics. Photo: AFP
The Pentagon building in Washington, DC. A federal judge temporarily blocked the US military from awarding the multibillion-dollar 'Jedi' contract to Microsoft, after Amazon claimed the process was tainted by politics. Photo: AFP

A federal judge temporarily blocked Microsoft from working on a $10 billion (Dh36.7bn) Pentagon cloud-computing contract after Amazon asked for the delay, a surprise win for the company as it challenges the validity of the award over allegations that President Donald Trump interfered.

The government cannot proceed with implementing the contract “until further order of the court”, according to the decision by US Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith. The judge ordered Amazon to pay $42 million in security, the minimum amount that the government had requested in the event of a delay. The judge’s full opinion was posted under seal.

It is unusual for the US Court of Federal Claims to pause work on a contract over the government’s objections. The ruling is a victory for Amazon, which faced an uphill battle in its bid to get the award overturned, procurement experts said.

“The judge clearly sees some merit in Amazon’s challenge for the award to Microsoft,” said Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Pentagon spokesman Robert Carver said in a statement that the ruling unnecessarily delays implementation of the cloud contract and deprives “warfighters of a set of capabilities they urgently need”.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw said the company was “disappointed” in the ruling and reiterated that the Pentagon’s procurement process was fair. A representative for Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In October Microsoft won the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (Jedi) cloud contract, estimated to be worth as much as $10bn over a decade.

Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s cloud computing division, filed a lawsuit in November alleging that the Defence Department failed to fairly judge its bid for the contract because Mr Trump viewed Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos as his “political enemy”.

Amazon earlier asked the US Court of Federal Claims to allow it to question Mr Trump and top Pentagon leaders to seek additional evidence that might show political interference cost the company the cloud deal.

The e-commerce giant’s lawsuit chronicles a laundry list of comments and actions by Mr Trump and the Defence Department that it claims show the Pentagon bowed to political pressure when awarding the deal to Microsoft.

But government lawyers argued in a filing made public on Wednesday that Amazon’s request to depose Mr Trump was “particularly audacious” and unnecessary because the company had failed to offer enough evidence to support its claims of bias.

The government also asked the court to reject Amazon’s request to temporarily block work on the contract, arguing that such a pause would compromise national security and drain taxpayer money. Government lawyers estimated in court papers that it would cost taxpayers between $5m to $7m for every month implementation was delayed.

The Pentagon’s Jedi project is designed to consolidate the department’s cloud computing infrastructure and modernise its technology systems. The Pentagon has already begun identifying programmes that could be transitioned into the Jedi cloud environment.

Updated: February 14, 2020 12:18 PM

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