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Amazon Executive on Fight Over Huge Defense Contract: ‘The Process Was Not Rigged’

October 23, 2019, 5:27 PM UTC

The Defense Department’s plan to build a cloud computing network for America’s front-line soldiers has made for one of the most contentious government contracts in recent memory. But the woman in charge of Amazon’s bid for the $10 billion project is taking it all in stride.

“I have seen a lot of these,” Teresa Carlson, vice president for Amazon’s government business, said on stage at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. “Sometimes they’re not as out there in the press, but there are a lot that will get political.”

Four tech giants initially bid on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, better known by the acronym JEDI. After Oracle was eliminated and Google dropped out of the process, only Amazon and Microsoft remain in the running. But Amazon has been the target of particularly fierce scrutiny.

Oracle, which lodged a formal protest of the process in 2018, has alleged in part that Amazon offered jobs to Defense Department staff working on the contract. A mysterious dossier that began circulating late last year made more salacious allegations, including that a former defense department advisor skewed the contract to favor Amazon. This was part of what Bloomberg described as a “dirty tricks campaign” to derail Amazon’s bid.

Carson was clear in her response to all the attacks: “The process was not rigged,” she said.

This sort of fight is familiar to Carlson after two decades working in public sector procurement.

“It is kind of a status quo in government that everything gets protested,” she said, “which is kind of sad, because it delays innovation.”

In the case of JEDI, what’s being delayed is an effort to give American combat troops faster, more reliable access to the information they need to be effective.

“You need the ability to rapidly pull in and process data, and get it to the warfighter so they can do something with it,” Carlson said about the project’s goals. JEDI, she said, would provide needed resiliency against communication attacks such as satellite jamming.

Carlson argued today that Amazon’s real edge is its track record, starting with a 2013 contract to build a secure cloud to connect U.S. intelligence agencies—an effort that was seen as a radical departure for a high-security government agency at the time.

Though a federal judge rejected Oracle’s protest in July, the White House ordered a review of the bidding process in August, specifically because the contract may go to Amazon, according to officials. That may have been motivated by President Donald Trump’s enduring, very public animus towards the Washington Post, which is often critical of the Trump administration and is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Carlson says she and her team have tried to focus on the project instead of the politics—and even went so far as to praise the Trump administration.

“You can’t dwell on this stuff. This administration has actually driven a lot in the IT modernization area. We’ve seen customers across government adopt cloud at a much faster rate than ever before.”