Over the past few years, it has been a rare occurrence that Congress has done some good for America.
Right now, Congress is working on a spending bill that will keep the government open until December 7, 2018 when they will have to revisit government funding and pass a new appropriations measure. The bill is not great, because it is way over budget, but there is one important provision that has been put into this legislation that will save the taxpayers some cash.
An emerging scandal over a rigged process to secure a company or a number of companies to provide cloud computing data storage services for the Department of Defense (DOD). The DOD is in the process of doling out a massive contract to manage all the cloud computing for defense data. The Daily Caller reported in August that Amazon embedded a former consultant at the Defense Department who later helped write up a request for proposal (RFP) that only Amazon would get. From the report, “a former senior adviser to Secretary of Defense James Mattis was receiving payments from her sale of a consulting firm she founded that worked with Amazon’s cloud computing arm, while the Pentagon simultaneously crafted a $10 billion contract that many say is tilted in favor of the tech giant.” Congress is so angry with this scandalous process that they are demanding transparency and a report on the details of how the request for proposal was rolled out as part of an end of year appropriations measure.
Under the Constitution, Congress is part of the Article I function of the federal government. One of those functions is to appropriate money and to authorize the executive branch to spend that cash. It is also a part of Congress’ power to conduct oversight on how the federal government spends taxpayer resources. Bloomberg reports, “a budget agreement reached by U.S. lawmakers would bar the Defense Dept from spending any money to migrate applications to its upcoming cloud project until Congress receives more information.” The provision that will become law by the end of the month has guidance that requests a report from the Secretary of Defense on a strategy to “sustain competition and use multiple cloud vendors.” This contract may end up exceeding $10 billion in value and it makes sense to break up the providers to keep costs low and provide some competitiveness in the process.
There were a number of stories that declared Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the early winner in this process. Vanity Fair reported that when the request for proposal went out “everybody immediately knew that it (the JEDI contract) was for Amazon.” The media reported and other competitors recognized early that this contracting fight was rigged in favor of Amazon. The report indicated that “according to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win—or even apply for—the contract. One provision, for instance, stipulates that bidders must already generate more than $2 billion a year in commercial cloud revenues—a ‘bigger is better’ requirement that rules out all but a few of Amazon’s rivals.” This rigged process has raised some eyebrows in on Capitol Hill and the requested report from the DOD should shed some light on cronyism and how the process was fixed at the front end to make sure only a division of Amazon could win this contracting fight.
One element of getting the contract early is that this company has dedicated massive amounts of cash on lobbying. Amazon has dedicated “$67 million in lobbying since 2000” and has spent more than some of the biggest players in Washington combined. Amazon has set new standards when it comes to every element of the lobbying game.
Usually, conservatives have a long list of complaints with Capitol Hill and this year will be no different. This year conservatives rain some praise on the members of Congress who have protected the taxpayer from this rigged process bought and paid for by Amazon. By forcing a true competitive process for DOD cloud computing, the Congress is using their constitutional powers to save some money for the taxpayer and forcing the federal government to stay away from cronyism when putting out requests for new bids on contracts.