Exclusive: Amazon cloud chief Andy Jassy calls JEDI award process unfair and ‘risky’
Political interference by President Donald Trump in the process by which the Pentagon granted a $10 billion cloud computing contract to Microsoft is “very risky for the country,” rival Amazon Web Services Inc. Chief Executive Andy Jassy said in an exclusive interview with SiliconANGLE.
Amazon.com Inc. late Friday filed a protest of the Pentagon’s award of the 10-year Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure or JEDI contract, citing evidence in videos that showed the process was improperly influenced by opposition from Trump.
As the No. 1 provider of cloud infrastructure services, AWS was the front-runner to win the lucrative contract. But in a big surprise, Microsoft nabbed the Department of Defense contract last month, altering the landscape of the fast-growing market for cloud computing services that are rapidly replacing private data centers.
Jassy told SiliconANGLE in an interview that it was apparent Trump’s opposition suddenly changed the decision. One exhibit in Amazon’s protest cited four videos, including one of Trump at a campaign rally in 2016 and another in which the president said was “getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon.… They’re saying it wasn’t competitively bid.”
Trump has been at odds with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, apparently because he personally owns the Washington Post, which has run many hard-hitting articles on Trump and his administration. Meanwhile, a recently released book written by a former aide to Defense Secretary James Mattis alleges that Trump called Mattis in summer 2018 and told him to “screw Amazon.”
“We obviously believe that it wasn’t adjudicated fairly,” Jassy told SiliconANGLE “In any objective apples-to-apples comparison of our platform versus others, you don’t end up, with the conclusion that they made.”
Jassy added that most of AWS’ customers tell him the company is a couple of years ahead of rivals.
“So, I think there was a significant amount of political interference,” he said. “And when you have a sitting president of the country who is very open about his disdain for a company and the leader of that company, it makes it really hard for government agencies like the DOD to be able to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal. I think that’s really risky for our country and for our democracy.”
Amazon was also the subject of a concerted campaign to show alleged favoritism toward the company by the DOD, including unverified claims by Oracle Corp. that the contract was written specifically for AWS — a claim that the award to Microsoft appears to discount.
“I don’t think that they built a RFP [request for proposal] around any one cloud provider,” Jassy said. “I think they had a set of requirements that they thought they needed to modernize their technology infrastructure and for the missions that they see today and they see coming moving forward. When you’re in need of very significant modernization where the ramifications are high, it’s crucial that the decision is made in a completely objective way that’s clear from political interference.
Jassy strongly criticized the apparent politicization of the process. “It’s very risky for the country, it’s very risky for democracy, it’s risky for making the right decisions for the country,” he said. “Our national defense is critical for this country, but not just for this country. It’s critical for the world.”
JEDI, which will help the DOD analyze and process large amounts of classified and sensitive military data, is considered a key contract not only because of the potential $10 billion value over 10 years, but because it might influence much more government spending on cloud services. Originally IBM Corp. and Oracle were competing, but the field was narrowed down in April to just AWS and Microsoft.
That said, Amazon has won other intelligence community contracts, which Jassy said gives it experience valuable to the military and intelligence agencies.
“Whatever you spec in that RFP, as you actually get into the details, there are always a lot of things that are a little bit different than you thought,” he said. “And then, when the teams are really collaborating well, you think about all kinds of other opportunities that are available that you maybe didn’t realize were as achievable as they are when you have a really capable cloud provider.”
There’s no firm timing set yet for how the protest will move forward, but the next step will be the release of the protest redacted to protect trade secrets, likely in a few weeks.
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