G.O.P. Lawmakers Question Amazon’s Connections on Pentagon Contract

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Newly released emails amusement peculiar praise of Amazon among apical Defense Department officials during the Trump medication arsenic exertion firms competed for a $10 cardinal award.

Representative Ken Buck of Colorado is the apical  Republican connected  an antitrust subcommittee that passed a bipartisan bundle  of bills past  period  meant to weaken the dominance of Big Tech.
Credit...Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

July 13, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — As the Defense Department prepares to solicit bids for cloud-computing enactment that could output billions of dollars for Amazon, members of Congress are raising caller questions astir the company’s efforts to triumph a $10 cardinal declaration during the Trump administration.

Previously unreleased emails amusement that Pentagon officials successful 2017 and 2018 lavished praise connected respective of the tech executives whose companies expressed involvement successful the archetypal contract, particularly Amazon, portion concerns astir the company’s entree look to person been glossed over, according to the emails, different documents and interviews.

Two Republican lawmakers who person pushed to rein successful the dominance of Amazon and different tech companies successful user markets are seizing connected the emails arsenic grounds that Amazon unfairly utilized its power successful competing for taxpayer-funded contracts.

Representative Ken Buck of Colorado and Senator Mike Lee of Utah called for Amazon to attest nether oath astir “whether it tried to improperly power the largest national declaration successful history,” the $10 cardinal task called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, oregon JEDI, that would determination the Pentagon’s machine networks into the cloud. Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

Whatever clout Amazon had successful the Trump-era Pentagon had constricted effect. And the institution besides had a precise high-level antagonist: President Donald J. Trump, who portion successful bureau regularly assailed Amazon’s main executive astatine the time, Jeff Bezos, the proprietor of The Washington Post. Amazon yet mislaid the JEDI contract, which was awarded to Microsoft successful 2019, igniting questions astir whether Mr. Trump’s hostility to Amazon played a relation successful the outcome.

But, successful a triumph for Amazon, the declaration was canceled by the Pentagon this period amid a contentious ineligible conflict implicit the grant among Amazon, Microsoft and different tech companies. The Defense Department instantly announced that it was starting a revised unreality programme that could output contracts for Amazon, Microsoft and perchance different firms, mounting disconnected what is expected to beryllium an aggravated lobbying fight.

The recently released emails and interviews with radical acquainted supply a glimpse into the evolving narration betwixt the Defense Department and the large exertion companies astatine a clip erstwhile the Pentagon is progressively shifting its absorption from planes, tanks and different hardware to bundle and initiatives involving artificial quality and instrumentality learning.

They amusement however successful the months starring up to the JEDI fight, apical Pentagon officials and Silicon Valley executives engaged successful an admiring courtship that led to high-level entree for immoderate of the firms that would aboriginal explicit involvement successful the contract. The tech executives utilized the entree to impulse Jim Mattis, Mr. Trump’s archetypal defence secretary, to follow cloud-based exertion and, successful astatine slightest 1 case, to beforehand their ain company’s technology.

During a travel to the West Coast successful the summertime of 2017 to conscionable with executives from Apple, Amazon and Google, Mr. Mattis grew uncomfortable erstwhile helium was subjected to a objection of Amazon’s cloud-computing products astatine the company’s Seattle office during what helium expected would beryllium a much wide treatment of unreality technology, according to documents and a erstwhile elder Pentagon authoritative who is acquainted with the meeting.

The erstwhile authoritative said the objection was attended by Mr. Bezos, with whom Mr. Mattis had conscionable met 1 connected one, and a fig of his lieutenants, and was led by an enforcement successful complaint of selling products from Amazon Web Services, oregon AWS, to governments.

Briefing materials prepared for Mr. Mattis earlier the gathering stated that “it volition not beryllium a income pitch,” with “not” underlined for emphasis.

But instantly aft the meeting, an adjutant to Mr. Mattis wrote successful an email to different Pentagon authoritative that the league “seemed to morph into an AWS income pitch.” Mr. Mattis “was bully and gracious but I didn’t get a bully vibe retired of it,” the adjutant wrote, adding that the one-on-one league preceding the objection with Mr. Bezos “seemed to spell precise well” and that the Amazon laminitis and the defence caput “did look to click connected a idiosyncratic level.”


Credit...Alex Wong/Getty Images

The contention for the JEDI declaration rapidly became bogged down successful bitter squabbling. IBM protested the petition for proposal, suggesting it favored Amazon, portion Oracle alleged that Pentagon officials had conflicts of involvement related to Amazon. When the declaration went to Microsoft instead, Amazon sued to artifact it, arguing the Trump medication had interfered successful the contracting process due to the fact that of Mr. Trump’s enmity toward Mr. Bezos.

An probe by the Defense Department’s inspector wide dismissed the astir superior allegations astir Amazon and Pentagon officials improperly tilting the contracting process to the company.

In a study past year, the inspector wide concluded that the result of the JEDI declaration was not affected by either Mr. Trump’s attacks connected Amazon oregon the connections betwixt the institution and the Defense Department.

But the study omitted the expressions of interest astir the “sales pitch” objection for Mr. Mattis astatine Amazon headquarters, arsenic good arsenic connection from an email speech successful which a Pentagon authoritative told 2 adjacent advisers to Mr. Mattis that the defence secretary’s main of unit “defers” to them astir whether to judge a petition from Amazon for a gathering astatine the Pentagon betwixt Mr. Bezos and Mr. Mattis.

One of the adjacent advisers, Sally Donnelly, responded that Mr. Bezos “is the genius of our age, truthful wherefore not.” Ms. Donnelly had worked successful the Defense Department during the Obama medication earlier starting a consulting steadfast successful 2012 wherever her clients included Amazon. That gathering does not look to person taken place, and Ms. Donnelly aboriginal testified to the inspector wide that she was being “flippant” and that Mr. Mattis’s main of unit — not Ms. Donnelly — decided which meetings to take.

But little than 2 days aft her email calling Mr. Bezos a genius, Ms. Donnelly followed up with a database of 7 reasons Mr. Mattis should conscionable with him. It included that Amazon had hired “many” erstwhile U.S. authorities quality experts, that its unreality information “was truthful convincing” to the C.I.A. “that the bureau 2 years agone took the astonishing measurement of migrating the bulk of its unafraid enactment to Amazon,” and that Mr. Bezos’s ownership of The Washington Post gave him “influence beyond the concern world.”

The inspector general’s bureau did not reply questions astir the omissions of circumstantial lines from the emails, oregon whether those omissions near an incomplete representation of the interactions betwixt the Pentagon and Amazon.

“Our JEDI Cloud Procurement study speaks for itself — we basal by our findings and conclusions,” Dwrena K. Allen, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said successful a statement.

Michael N. Levy, a lawyer for Ms. Donnelly, said successful a connection that she “always adhered to each ethical and ineligible obligations and acted successful the champion involvement of the nationalist information of the United States.”

Her efforts to broker meetings for Mr. Mattis and different tech executives were “part of the Department of Defense’s captious efforts to alteration successful the integer age,” Mr. Levy said.

The emails — which day from 2017 and 2018 — were released by the Defense Department’s inspector wide successful effect to a Freedom of Information Act suit brought by a erstwhile inspector general. The events described successful them predate the ceremonial Pentagon petition for bids connected the JEDI contract.

The emails amusement Mr. Mattis’s aides besides lavishing praise connected the main executives of different companies.

Ms. Donnelly called Satya Nadella, the main enforcement of Microsoft, “one of the sector’s ‘thought leaders’ and 1 of the country’s astir salient Indian Americans,” and indicated it was important for Mr. Mattis to conscionable with Mr. Nadella to show impartiality.

Another aide, whose sanction is redacted successful the emails, wrote that Milo Medin, a Google enforcement with whom Mr. Mattis met during his 2017 travel to the West Coast, was “great.”

Mr. Mattis’s gathering with Tim Cook of Apple was “also solid,” the adjutant wrote, noting that the 2 men “seemed to click personally, Cook said he’s anxious to assistance nevertheless helium tin (and seemed to mean it).” The adjutant concluded that “one affirmative enactment of the travel is that everyone” astatine the assorted companies “seemed to convey a sincere ‘patriotic’ tune. I deliberation that mightiness person amazed the Boss a bit.”

A period aft the trip, the Pentagon issued a memo titled “Accelerating Enterprise Cloud Adoption.”

Mr. Buck, who worked connected a bipartisan bundle of bills that passed the Judiciary Committee past period meant to weaken the dominance of Big Tech, joined with Mr. Lee successful sending a missive to Mr. Bezos successful May suggesting that Amazon tried “to monopolize 1 oregon much markets relating to authorities and/or commercialized unreality computing services by improperly influencing the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement process.”

They called connected the Justice Department to analyse whether Amazon “may person violated national struggle of involvement and antitrust laws.” And they accused the Defense Department’s inspector general of glossing implicit improprieties related to Amazon’s bid for the JEDI contract.

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