October 29, 2019
Microsoft won a $10 billion, 10-year technology contract with the Department of Defense for its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project. Although Amazon was the front-runner, President Trump had upped his criticism of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and stated he might intervene to prevent Bezos’ company from getting the JEDI contract. Google, IBM and Oracle also competed for the contract. A group of Microsoft employees has protested the company’s involvement in the military project.
The New York Times reports that the JEDI project aims to “transform the military’s cloud computing systems … [and] is central to the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize its technology.” The Pentagon currently works with computer systems from the 1980s and 1990s, and “the Defense Department has spent billions of dollars trying to make them talk to one another.”
Prior to the announcement that Microsoft won the bid, Amazon “had been considered the front-runner, in part because it had built cloud services for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Former defense secretary Jim Mattis’ speechwriter reported, “Trump had wanted to foil Amazon and give the contract to another company.”
That information has led many to conclude that Trump played a role in awarding the JEDI contract. New defense secretary Mark Esper ultimately recused himself from bidding, saying that, “he could not participate because his son worked for IBM.” Microsoft was not considered to be a leading contender because the company only recently “opened enough classified server facilities to be able to handle data on the scale of the Pentagon contract.”
Amazon stated it was “surprised by the decision … [since] AWS is the clear leader in cloud computing.” A former Pentagon head of public affairs, Price Floyd, said, “Trump’s vocal criticism of Amazon would give it ample grounds to protest the award to Microsoft.”
Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives reported that, with regard to cloud computing, “Amazon has long been the dominant player, with about 45 percent of the market, trailed by Microsoft with around 25 percent.” Ives added that winning the contract “puts Microsoft in a prime position to earn the roughly $40 billion that the federal government is expected to spend on cloud computing over the next several years.”
The Pentagon stands to benefit tremendously from “unifying information in the cloud … as the military moves to greater use of remote sensors, semiautonomous weapons and, ultimately, artificial intelligence.” The U.S. Cyber Command has also “been elevated to the equivalent of Central Command, which runs operations in the Middle East, or the Northern Command, which defends the continental United States.”
Bloomberg reports, “Microsoft employees have protested involvement in the contract.” A group of employees calling themselves Microsoft Workers 4 Good tweeted that they are “disheartened that Microsoft accepted the JEDI contract.”
“As Microsoft workers, we are now complicit of ‘increasing the lethality’ of the U.S. Department of Defense,” it added, quoting the Defense Department’s “description of the contract’s goal.” Microsoft said it will continue to pursue military work, but that workers can request to be moved to other projects.