(WASHINGTON)—The Defense Department inspector general report released this morning illustrates just how terribly the Pentagon bungled the $10 billion JEDI cloud computing contract.
“This is the poster child for a procurement gone wrong. The process for awarding the JEDI contract was questioned from the start and severely hampered by ethical issues and the appearance of influence from the president and others,” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). “Add to that the White House’s inappropriate refusal to participate in the inspector general’s investigation, and we have a $10 billion mess on our hands.”
The contracting process for a cloud computing system that U.S. troops need has been dragged out by both the appearance of interference and actual conflicts of interest. The inspector general’s office found that the Pentagon improperly disclosed proprietary Microsoft information to Amazon and that a Defense Department employee worked on JEDI contract matters while in negotiations to work at Amazon—both troubling ethics violations, though neither has been adequately addressed by the inspector general’s office. The report didn’t substantiate other ethics violations and excused some as being “not substantial.”
Though the inspector general was not able to definitively say that President Donald Trump’s public animosity toward Amazon influenced the Pentagon’s decision, the report did note that Trump’s public messages, and the bungling of the process, “may have created the appearance or perception that the contract award process was not fair or unbiased.” Trump’s statements wading into the issue were highly problematic—the president’s personal animosities have no role in government procurement.
It’s also alarming that the inspector general’s office was not able to get all the information it sought on possible conversations between the White House and the Pentagon regarding the JEDI contract. The White House stretched the limits of executive privilege by blocking several Pentagon officials from speaking to the inspector general’s office about conversations with the White House. Executive privilege is designed to protect national security and the president’s candid conversations with close advisers, not to block agency officials from discussing a large government contract that does not call for direct presidential decision-making.
We at the Project On Government Oversight are also dismayed that this is the first we are hearing about the inspector general’s issues obtaining interviews with top Pentagon officials. As established in the Inspector General Act of 1978, inspectors general have a duty to report to their agency head, who then must report to Congress, when the inspector general encounters serious deficiencies or abuses in agency programs. We believe a stonewall from the White House on a central question of an inspector general investigation rises to that level. Additionally, contracting regulations state that government officials should be open to providing a public accounting of their actions.
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.
We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.