Why Amazon's Multi-Billion-Dollar Defense Department Contract Is So Controversial

The Department of Defense is reportedly close to giving a massive contract to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to conduct and manage all the cloud computing of classified and non-classified data.  This is a big problem because it raises two issues: national defense security and cronyism.

On April 4, Business Insider reported that the Department of Defense is "close to awarding a cloud-services contract worth as much as $10 billion to Amazon, even as President Donald Trump attacks the e-commerce giant from the White House, according to a source with knowledge of the deal."  This is a deal that is expected to be upwards of $10 billion because the contract may last past ten years.

The security concern is that this contract may hurt national security by relying on one company for the whole contract.  Multiple cloud providers, rather than one company, are preferable to protect data with redundancy.  The Hill reported on March 11 that Matt Stoller, an economist at Open Markets Institute, made the case that using only Amazon Web Services "is obviously reckless."  He stated that "the Pentagon should clearly have multiple cloud providers so that if something happens to one of them there is resiliency and redundancy."  A multi-cloud approach would improve performance; economics; and, most importantly, security.  There is no need to put personnel records and command-and-control communications on the same cloud as the Department of Defense public-facing websites.

Security protocols can be developed that limit access to classified versus non-classified information, yet a foreign national can more easily engage in espionage if all information is housed on one cloud.  The way this cloud computing program is being constructed will not protect our men and women in combat to the extent necessary to protect data that may be compromised.  National security should be the most important factor in granting this contract, yet it seems as though this sole source contract will make it easier for sensitive American national defense data to be compromised by our enemies.

Cronyism is also a concern.  It is well established that sole source contracts are frowned upon by the federal government because they harm competition, and the granting of this contract seems to have avoided any real competitive bidding process.  One concern is that there is evidence that this is being given because Amazon has gamed the system in a way to make sure it gets the contract.

There are a couple of pieces of circumstantial evidence that point to the idea that there is no real competition for this contract because the result has already been determined.  Bloomberg reported on March 7 that "Amazon already has a cloud contract with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency dating back to 2013 that's valued at $600 million."  Amazon had hired an army of lobbyists to secure that contract.  Then REAN Cloud, LLC, a partner company to Amazon Web Services, was given a contract to migrate Pentagon data to the cloud recently, and that indicates that Amazon is likely to get the contract to manage that data.  The Business Insider story is another piece of evidence in the public domain that this is a done deal for Amazon.

The Department of Defense original Request for Information (RFI) issued on October 30, 2017 also effectively signaled a sole source, not multiple supplier, request.  The request stated: "DoD is seeking targeted industry input on how to best approach and structure the planned solicitation to acquire a modern enterprise cloud services solution that can support unclassified, secret, and top secret information in CONUS and OCONUS environments."  This is yet another piece of information that points toward a single supplier rather than a more secure multiple supplier scenario.

One other concern is that cronyism is at play because many officials who used to work at Amazon and some left-wing ideologues are the ones pushing for open source cloud computing for all government agencies.  Breitbart News reported in December of last year that the "Trump Administration is still filled with Obama-era technology holdovers filling the ranks of GSA's taxpayer-funded software development corporation 18f, the White House's taxpayer-funded technology consultancy, the United States Digital Service (USDS), and numerous digital services around the government. The Defense Innovation Board is Chaired by none other than Bezos' co-conspirator and fellow Clinton supporter, Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google parent company Alphabet.  18f and USDS are staffed by Presidential Innovation Fellows, among others.  These Presidential Innovation Fellows are placed by companies like Google and Amazon, and they are hopelessly conflicted."  Obama holdovers seem to be in control of the process, and they favor Amazon.

Draining the swamp includes decisions made by the granters of government contracts that get away from cronyism that hurts national defense.  The federal government would be wise to take a deep breath and rethink the awarding of this massive Department of Defense contract for all data to Amazon.

Bryan Crabtree is author of new book, The Trump In You: Acting Like Trump Is Actually A Good Thing.  Crabtree is a radio host on AM 920 The ANSWER in Atlanta, Ga. and the publisher of Talk40.com.

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