The defense acquisition community faces a climate problem — a political climate of suspicion is impeding the Pentagon’s efforts to take advantage of private industry expertise to deliver important capabilities to America’s warfighters.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called out the delegitimizing and debilitating nature of the climate of suspicion when, during his confirmation hearing, he observed: “I think the presumption is, for some reason, anybody who comes from the business or the corporate world is corrupt.” This phenomenon contributes to unnecessary delays to critical contract awards, discourages recruitment of leaders with industry experience, and deters strategic collaboration with industry partners.
Government faces a growing need for access to technologies at the frontier of innovation, requiring greater reliance on engagement with private sector innovators to deliver these tools. Although legitimate concerns about conflicts of interest should always receive fair hearing, when taken to extremes, they become detrimental to sound national security policy.
The controversy over the awarding of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract illustrates how the current climate of suspicion can undermine national defense programs. The JEDI cloud will act as a centralized cloud computing service for all of the Defense Department’s unclassified, classified and top-secret information. The contract will offer its eventual awardee revenue of up to $10 billion over 10 years. With such a lucrative deal up for grabs, the award process has become contentious, including allegations of bias in the award decision. Most prominently, Oracle Corp. filed a lawsuit against the department claiming that conflicts of interest by recently hired Pentagon procurement personnel previously employed by Amazon Web Services — the widely speculated favorite to win the JEDI contract award — prejudicially affected the procurement.
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