DoD Launches JEDI Program Amid Cloud Provider Criticism

The U.S. Department of Defense has decided to bet on the cloud for much of its future information technology operations — presenting significant opportunities for cloud service providers (CSPs) and related IT suppliers.

However, DoD’s latest foray into cloud technology has stimulated significant criticism from a large swath of the IT and CSP sectors. DoD released its final request for proposal for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud program last week. The program, dubbed “JEDI,” could reach a total contract value of US$10 billion over 10 years, DoD said.

Potential contractors must submit bids by Sept. 19.

Yet the structure of the contract will deny opportunities for multiple IT and CSP providers to gain a share of the JEDI program — and the RFP actually may favor one provider, critics have contended.

As DoD circulated drafts of the proposal earlier this year, industry groups such as the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS) and the Professional Services Council cautioned the Defense Department about the structure of the contract. Now that the proposal is official, those concerns could spur legal actions.

In essence, the JEDI program represents an approach to managing DoD’s IT infrastructure with a particular emphasis on fully exploiting cloud technology as a key element, and perhaps eventually the core element — of the department’s IT operations. The rationale for JEDI was framed more as a remedial effort to overcome current deficiencies than a positive goal going forward.

DoD’s “lack of a coordinated enterprise-level approach to cloud infrastructure makes it virtually impossible for our warfighters and leaders to make critical data-driven decisions at ‘mission-speed,’ negatively affecting outcomes,” says the JEDI draft statement of objectives. The JEDI cloud program “will provide enterprise-level, commercial cloud services as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS)” for more than 40 components of DoD, including all the major military services.

IT Provider Challenges

While industry groups generally agree that DoD could improve IT management significantly, and that cloud technology is central that effort, these groups still take issue with the specific contract terms of the proposed JEDI project.

A key objection is that DoD has insisted on using a “single award” concept for JEDI. Although Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress this spring that JEDI would feature “full and open” competition and avoid a sole source, the RFP language frustrates that objective, according to industry groups.

The preliminary drafts of the proposal were designed to “facilitate the deployment of a single cloud under this program,” said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president at the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS), which represents major IT providers.

“Deployment of a single cloud conflicts with established best practices and industry trends in the commercial marketplace, as well as current law and regulation, which calls for the award of multiple task or delivery order contracts to the maximum extent practicable,” Hodgkins wrote in an April letter to Congress. “Further, the speed of adoption of innovative commercial solutions, like cloud, is facilitated by the use of these best practices.”

Yet the final RFP again emphasizes the single-award concept and includes a contractual “determination” for such using such a vehicle. That may not quiet the critics.

Industry sources this spring challenged various DoD positions in a response to a Defense Department report to Congress that defended the JEDI contract terms.

DoD Faulted on Best Practice Claim

Single source arrangements would lead to more efficient management and more responsive acquisition, according to DoD, by avoiding more time-consuming administration of a multivendor mechanism in which in a roster of providers are qualified to bid on subsequent task orders.

Such contracts are common in government IT acquisition and can involve more than 10 providers, along with subcontracting potential.

Based on DoD market research, “migration to a single cloud is consistent with industry best practice,” the department states in its May 2018 report to Congress on the JEDI program.

However, the private sector has routinely managed complex, multicloud environments, industry representatives have contended, and the department’s need to integrate JEDI into a multisystem environment would require it to confront the same issues it seeks to avoid by using a single vendor.

In addition to management issues, the single-award concept could put the award recipient in a position to dominate future cloud contracting, critics of the DoD proposal have objected.

Vendor lock-in is still a major concern within the industry, despite DoD’s statement to Congress this spring.

“Technology changes, and the RFP as drafted would discourage innovation,” noted John Weiler, vice-chair of the IT Acquisition Advisory Council (IT-AAC), a public-private partnership focusing on federal IT issues.

“Providers have different capabilities which the government should tap, rather than make it difficult to obtain multicloud resources,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“The DoD approach appears to pave the way for JEDI to be the Department’s all-encompassing cloud facility, which raises concerns about the future of the current DoD milCloud capability and the Defense Information Systems Agency, and the impact on current providers,” Weiler said.

A further worry about the single-award strategy is that the RFP terms likely could favor one potential vendor: Amazon Web Services. The company has contracted to provide IT and cloud capabilities for the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, and other federal agencies.

“We are concerned that the department may have engendered a sort of institutional bias” when it comes to Amazon, Weiler said. “I would not be surprised to see that the RFP will be protested,” he added.

Broader Approach Indicated

The RFP itself discusses JEDI in the context of a broad panoply of cloud solutions, even though DoD selected the single-award strategy.

“This is a full and open competition that will result in a single-award contract,” said Defense Department spokesperson Heather Babb.

“While JEDI cloud is an initial step toward a department-wide cloud solution, DoD will continue to operate in a multicloud environment due to diverse mission needs,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

“If there was an effort to centralize all cloud approaches under the JEDI program, then current efforts probably would not still be under way. Navy is about to award an enterprise-wide commercial cloud services contract. The Army just added a dozen vendors to its ACCENT cloud services contract vehicle,” said Alex Rossino, senior analyst at Deltek.

“Defense agencies have been directed to move all of their cloud-ready systems to milCloud 2.0. I suspect none of this would be going on if JEDI was intended to be the one cloud to rule them all,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Nor does the single-award strategy preclude competition, Rossino noted, because multiple teams have the capabilities to meet DoD’s requirements.

However, “vendor lockin is a different story,” he said. “DoD could get around that by awarding multiple contracts to build a single cloud infrastructure. This might sound like it’s not efficient, but requiring multiple contractors to develop an interoperable cloud infrastructure would satisfy concern among industry, Congress and the DoD.”

While the RFP’s release constitutes the final invitation to bid, DoD said it would take questions and comments through Aug. 16, via a special format within the RFP.

John K. Higgins

John K. Higgins has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2009. His main areas of focus are U.S. government technology issues such as IT contracting, cybersecurity, privacy, cloud technology, big data and e-commerce regulation. As a freelance journalist and career business writer, he has written for numerous publications, includingThe Corps Report and Business Week.Email John.

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