Don’t Let Amazon Cash In On Our Military

By Gary S. Goldman

They frequently attend fundraisers, and so it’s easy to accuse them of being “bought” by greedy lobbyists. Never mind that donations to candidates and PACs are legal and protected by the First Amendment. Never mind that donations are declared publicly. Never mind that members of congress need to raise money to run a campaign.

At least they’re open about where the cash comes from. That’s not necessarily so when it comes to some bureaucrats in the government. They can benefit from “cronyism,” taking money to favor a certain position, and most of us have no way to find out that they’re doing that.

Unless lawmakers help. And they’ve been doing just that in an important area: cloud computing.

You see, the Pentagon intends to move all of its data off of physical servers in basements around the world and instead store it on the cloud. Great. We need to deploy 21st Century technology to help our service members succeed. The program is known as JEDI, “Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure.” But it sure looks as if the fix is in.

Instead of spreading the information across multiple cloud providers, the Defense Department wants to give a long term contract (perhaps as long as ten years) to one company to handle all of its cloud computing needs. The entire deal could be worth $10 billion, and could reshape cloud computing for a generation.

“Amazon Web Services, the cloud-computing unit of Amazon.com, is seen as a front-runner because of its work with the CIA under an earlier, $600 million contract, something that has given it years of expertise in handling classified data,” says an understated story in the Washington Post. Amazon founder Jedd Bezos owns that newspaper, which probably helps him obtain good coverage.

Another potential bidder is more direct than the Post. When they saw the RFP, “everybody immediately knew that it was for Amazon,” Vanity Fair reports. And in fact, the RFP might as well be tailored to fit AWS. It contains provisions that only Amazon can meet. Not because those provisions are necessary, but just to make certain no other bidder can even join the contest.

Lawmakers recognize that it is wrong for the military to favor one provider. They want to make sure the process is fair and open.

They recently added language to the defense spending bill that tells the military to deliver: “a proposed plan to establish a budget accounting system that provides transparency across the Department, including all military Services and Defense Agencies, for funds requested and expended for all cloud computing services procured by the Department and funds requested and expended to migrate to a cloud computing environment.”

Furthermore, they want the DoD to explain its “strategy to sustain competition and innovation throughout the period of performance of each contract, including defining opportunities for multiple cloud service providers and insertion of new technologies.”

Well, sustaining competition is simple enough: Split the contract up and allow several providers to bid openly on it. If AWS wins the whole thing, so be it. But others might pick up pieces of the deal and deliver great service. That’s also the way to deliver savings, by the way. Competition helps drive creativity and reduce costs. Instead of a ten-year deal, how about ten one year deals?

It would be fair to ask why the Pentagon seems to be smiling on AWS. But it’s not really possible to answer that. Maybe it’s because Amazon really is the best. Or maybe it’s because the Defense Secretary is close to Bezos. Or maybe because Bezos is friendly to military vets. The reason isn’t as important as the potential outcome.

Lawmakers are taking steps to make sure the military gets the best product at the best price. That, not bureaucratic cronyism, will help our warriors succeed in the new defense environment.

Gary S. Goldman is the nationally recognized host of “Business, Politics, & Lifestyles” a weekly talk show airing on WCRN 830 in Metro Boston MA. Learn more at garyonbpl.com

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