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(Photo credit: PeopleImages)
(Photo credit: PeopleImages)

Single Award or Multi-Cloud?: Public Policy and Department of Defense Cloud Computing

William Schneider

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The lack of clarity in the current JEDI procurement process

On September 13, 2017, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan issued a Memorandum on Accelerating Enterprise Cloud Adoption and established a Cloud Executive Steering Group (CESG) led by Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ellen Lord.  The CESG is the executive entity reporting directly to the Deputy Secretary to promote the rapid implementation of a Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), the initiative to accelerate movement to the cloud.

From inception, the CESG was widely seen as favoring a single-award cloud services provider (CSP), following in the direction taken by the Intelligence Community (IC) in its selection of Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its service provider, which took effect in 2013. 

Undersecretary Lord buttressed this impression with her remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum on December 2, 2017 by stating, “We are, no kidding, right now writing the contract to get everything moved to one cloud to begin with and then go from there.”1 Subsequently, a JEDI strategy document leaked to the press indicated there would be a “Single-award Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract” and a “Single Cloud Services Provider (CSP) to deliver services for cloud computing infrastructure and platform services.”2

In a second memorandum issued January 4, 2018, Deputy Secretary Shanahan removed Undersecretary Ellen Lord from both leadership and membership on the CESG, and in her place appointed now-Chief Management Officer Jay Gibson to lead the CESG.  Defense Digital Service (DDS) Director Chris Lynch would lead the acquisition, and USN Capt. David McAllister of the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) would lead the transition of select DoD components or agency systems to the acquired commercial cloud solution.3

These developments offered considerable scope for speculation, but they further reinforced the impression that a “top-down,” single-award approach to cloud services was likely.  Of particular note were the absence of representation of the service branches on the CESG and the omission of any statement of intention regarding their current cloud efforts. 

Any lingering doubt ended at a JEDI Industry Day meeting on March 7, 2018. A Defense Department official announced there would be a single award to one provider. In a subsequent conference call with reporters, DoD defended its decision not to pursue a multi-cloud approach.4

Public policy and the DoD’s competitive procurement of services

There is a strong presumption in both law and regulation that DoD will acquire products and services from the private sector on the basis of competitive procurement processes. The exceptions here, quite minor, concern the residual government “arsenal” element of the industrial base, including the national nuclear enterprise to develop, manufacture, support, and test nuclear weapons and other minor, highly specialized items for the DoD or Military Departments.5

There is inevitable tension between the public policy aspiration for competitive source selection for the DoD and mission demands.  Urgency may dictate a decision to procure from a sole source. Long and favorable experience with a specific product or service provider may also provide a powerful reason to sustain an existing procurement relationship with a vendor.  As the number of vendors in the DoD industrial base has declined substantially (20% in FY 2017), DoD has worked energetically to strengthen the competitive procurement process.6

Also potentially noteworthy is that Deputy Secretary Shanahan, in his prior role in both defense and civil acquisition as a Boeing executive, strongly supported competitive source selection for Boeing’s vendors.

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