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November 15, 2019

Amazon says 'bias' in Pentagon awarding $10bn contract

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Nov 15: Amazon has challenged the awarding of a USD 10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract to Microsoft, alleging "unmistakable bias" in the process.

The 10-year contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, better known as JEDI, ultimately will see all military branches sharing information in a system boosted by artificial intelligence.

"It's critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence," a spokesperson for Amazon Web Services said on Thursday.

"Numerous aspects of the JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias," Amazon said it filed a notice in US court last week signalling its intent to protest the handling of the bidding process.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Amazon and company founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. The newspaper is among US media outlets most critical in its coverage of Trump and his administration.

The president told reporters during a news conference in July that he had asked aides to investigate the JEDI contract, citing complaints from companies that compete with Amazon.

"I'm getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon. ... They're saying it wasn't competitively bid," Trump said.

"Some of the greatest companies in the world are complaining about it, having to do with Amazon and the Department of Defense, and I will be asking them to look at it very closely to see what's going on."

Amazon was considered the lead contender to provide technology for JEDI, with its Amazon Web Services (AWS) dominating the cloud computing arena and the company already providing classified servers for other government outfits including the CIA.

But the Pentagon delayed awarding the hefty contract, saying the process would be reviewed by newly appointed Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was selected by Trump.

A new book on the tenure of Esper's predecessor James Mattis, written by his speechwriter Guy Snodgrass, contends that Trump told Mattis to "screw Amazon" out of the JEDI contract.

Microsoft was Amazon's only rival in the final bidding for the winner-take-all contract, despite employees urging it to drop out. The Pentagon announced it was awarded the contract to Microsoft in late October.

"AWS is uniquely experienced and qualified to provide the critical technology with the US military needs, and remains committed to supporting the DoD's modernization efforts," the Amazon spokesperson said.

Amazon says 'bias' in Pentagon awarding $10bn contract

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