Thunderbirds’ Thunder Diamond formation (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)

Is more than one JEDI prime too complex?

When the Government Accountability Office denied Oracle’s protest of the Defense Department's single-award strategy for its massive cloud computing contract, many across industry were disappointed.

But the decision may give us our clearest picture yet into why the Defense Department wants just one company to provide its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure.

In layman’s terms, DOD said it just can’t handle more than one.

GAO denied Oracle’s pre-award protest, ruling that the strategy didn’t violate federal laws and regulations, as the company alleged. GAO released a statement on the decision last week but now has published a public version of its ruling.

And what I found most interesting were quotes from a GAO hearing where  DOD officials testified about their rationale for the single-award approach.

An unnamed DOD official said JEDI was DOD’s attempt to procure a commercial cloud solution at the enterprise level.

That official spoke about the variety of requirements DOD has for deploying and operating systems and that its technical personnel have to be “brought up to speed on how this technology works.”

“Doing that for a single solution provided to the department by either a vendor or a team of vendors is a big lift already. Trying to do that for multiple solutions with the department operating as the integrator would be exceedingly complex. And I don’t think we would be successful,” the official said during the hearing. 

DOD also needs to get its “mind around how to make sure our data and applications are secure in the cloud environment provided to us, as part of the JEDI cloud contract,” said the official, described as a deputy director.

The official spoke about risks and how DOD needed to better understand the risks it faces in moving to the cloud and how to manage that risk.

“Trying to do that… with (one) vendor is a thing, I think, the department knows how to do... Trying to do that with multiple vendors simultaneously, I just don’t think we have the technical expertise do that well,” the official said.

That testimony at the hearing appears to have carried a lot of weight in GAO’s decision. Testimonies from various other officials is quoted extensively throughout the decision and its footnotes.

But GAO’s statement last week carried the bulk of their reasoning -- DOD is acting reasonably with the decision to go with a single award and isn’t violating any rules and regulations. They documented their decision.

The GAO ruling goes into more detail, but the most telling thing to me is DOD’s frank admission that it can’t handle a complex, multiple-award contract.

In many ways, it lines up with what several in industry have complained to me about -- DOD is approaching JEDI too much like a weapons system or other large hardware programs. After all, only Lockheed Martin makes the F-35 fighter jet.

What is not addressed in the decision is what the impact is on IBM’s protest, which was filed later than Oracle’s and is on different timeline. A decision on IBM's protest is expected Jan. 18.

My gut says IBM has an even bigger hurdle to clear to have a successful pre-award protest.

It also is important to remember that these pre-award protests won’t stop any of the bidders in Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM and Oracle from protesting after an award is made.

This is a long-way from over. But the single award strategy seems to be settled.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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