Pentagon’s JEDI Cloud Contract Demands Innovation, Competition

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George Landrith President, Frontiers of Freedom
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In the tech industry and in America in general, innovation drives success. Too often, government resists innovation. But to be successful and relevant, government must accept and embrace innovation. Forward-looking Members of Congress have championed government innovation at the scale and pace required to match the demands of a digital age.

We must pursue technological advances to the advantage of citizens and taxpayers, despite bureaucracy roadblocks and special interests that currently aid the status quo of antiquated outdated government tech.

One of the most enterprising approaches government is currently considering is the Defense Department’s plans for a Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud which will revolutionize the way our military accesses critical information and systems across the globe – putting critical data in real time in the hands of the warfighter.

While DoD and other parts of government are rightly pushing to get access to the same cutting-edge technology that the commercial sector has been quick to embrace in its own business, in Washington, there is a Public Sector IT industrial complex that is heavily invested in the old model. They will defend the old ways and fight to the death any new ways of doing business.

IT companies afraid of competing head-to-head are lobbying for Congressional interference, hoping to overhaul the contract design and slant things in their favor and in favor of the status quo, and against real innovation.

These contractors have spent serious time and money on the status quo – not to mention made a sizable profit – and can’t afford for government to implement new, lower costs, more efficient and often near off-the-shelf commercial solutions. Their entire business model is based on the old, outmoded technology and they’d love for government to continue using it so that their profits continue to flow. But our warfighters deserve better!

Despite all the pushback, DoD is still committed to an open and fair competition that fosters innovation. That’s good news!

Through the JEDI procurement, DoD has committed to a new level of accountability not previously undertaken in any large government IT procurement.

After just two years of work, DoD will conduct a review to evaluate how well the winning IT company has kept up with industry innovations, including factors such as cost, data transfer, security, and compatibility among systems. The JEDI Request for Proposal (RFP) also lays out requirements for onramps and offramps if the government chooses to go with a new system or new provider at any point — meaning the government is not locked in to one option.

The DoD has made a conscious effort with JEDI to avoid that kind of vendor lock-in that has kept the Public Sector IT industrial complex profitable at the expense of new innovations. Again, good news!

The priority is “the ability to stay current” in the fast-evolving market for cloud services, according to Pentagon Chief Management Officer Jay Gibson.

The leading American commercial cloud providers are all likely to bid — Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and perhaps Google. Those four companies own a whopping 60 percent share of commercial cloud; the next 10 American providers don’t have even 10 percent share combined.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan has reiterated that JEDI does not encompass all of the department’s cloud computing services. Not even close.

“When you look at the amount of … cloud-like capacity that we have to build for the Department of Defense, this contract represents less than 20 percent,” said Shanahan. “When people say ‘It’s a winner-take-all,’ it’s a winner-take-all that is less than 20 percent.”

Simply stated, this needed and modest innovation poses no risk to the taxpayer, the DoD, or the warfighter. The only risk is to those who wish to stop or slow innovation.

DoD will do what it takes to foster a JEDI cloud that is a streamlined, user-friendly alternative to the government’s clunky legacy systems. Congress can be a great partner in supporting the department’s commitment to fair and open competition, but only if they resist the knee-jerk reaction to regulate or micromanage. DoD needs the freedom to innovate. Congress should not only let them but encourage them!

Josh Marcuse, executive director of the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) said, “If we don’t figure out how to get faster, in not only hypersonic weapons, but faster in decision speed, we’re never going to get to innovation, and we’re never going to get on the same rhythm and tempo as our Silicon Valley counterparts.”

Without the ability to innovate our very ability to defend ourselves will be hampered.

George Landrith is the President of Frontiers of Freedom an educational foundation whose mission is to promote a strong national defense and peace through strength.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.