A general view of the Pentagon in Washington D.C.
A general view of the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

Judge halts Microsoft work on Pentagon cloud deal after Amazon suit alleges bias

  • It’s unusual for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to pause work on a contract over the government’s objections
  • The ruling is a victory for Amazon, which faced an uphill battle in its bid to get the award overturned, procurement experts said

A federal judge temporarily blocked Microsoft Corp. from working on a $10 billion Pentagon cloud-computing contract after Amazon.com Inc. asked for the delay, a surprise win for the company as it challenges the validity of the award over allegations that President Donald Trump interfered.

The government can’t proceed with implementing the contract “until further order of the court," according to the decision by U.S Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith. The judge ordered Amazon to pay $42 million in security, the minimum amount that the government had requested in the event of a delay. The judge’s full opinion was posted under seal.

It’s unusual for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to pause work on a contract over the government’s objections. The ruling is a victory for Amazon, which faced an uphill battle in its bid to get the award overturned, procurement experts said.

“The judge clearly sees some merit in Amazon’s challenge for the award to Microsoft." said Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Pentagon spokesman Robert Carver said in a statement that the ruling unnecessarily delays implementation of the cloud contract and deprives “warfighters of a set of capabilities they urgently need."

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw said the company was “disappointed" in the ruling and reiterated that the Pentagon’s procurement process was fair. A representative for Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Microsoft shares fell as much as 1% to a low of $182.87 after the report before closing down less than 1%. Amazon shares, which had been in negative territory, rose less than 1%.

Microsoft in October won the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, cloud contract, estimated to be worth as much as $10 billion over a decade. Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s cloud computing division, filed a lawsuit in November alleging the Defense Department failed to fairly judge its bid for the contract because Trump viewed Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos as his “political enemy."

Amazon earlier asked the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to allow it to question Trump and top Pentagon leaders to seek additional evidence that might show political interference cost the company the cloud deal. Among the leaders Amazon seeks to depose are Trump, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s chief information officer.

The e-commerce giant’s lawsuit chronicles a laundry list of comments and actions by Trump and the Defense Department that it claims show the Pentagon bowed to political pressure when awarding the deal to Microsoft. In one case, Amazon cites claims in a book by Mattis’ former speechwriter, Guy Snodgrass, that Trump told Mattis in the summer of 2018 to “screw Amazon" by locking it out of the bid. Mattis has criticized the book.

But government lawyers argued in a filing made public on Wednesday that Amazon’s request to depose Trump was “particularly audacious" and unnecessary because the company had failed to offer enough evidence to support its claims of bias.

The government also asked the court to reject Amazon’s request to temporarily block work on the contract, arguing that such a pause would compromise national security and drain taxpayer money. Government lawyers estimated in court papers that it would cost taxpayers between $5 million to $7 million for every month implementation was delayed.

The Pentagon’s JEDI project is designed to consolidate the department’s cloud computing infrastructure and modernize its technology systems. The Pentagon has already begun identifying programs that could be transitioned into the JEDI cloud environment.

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