Google’s decision not to bid for the Pentagon’s $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud contract drew criticism from the chief executives of two rival tech companies: Amazon and Microsoft.
“One of the jobs of a senior leadership team is to make the right decision even when [it] is unpopular,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Monday at the WIRED25 summit. “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the DOD, then this country is going to be in trouble.”
Google announced the decision Oct. 8 in a statement that cited ethical concerns and uncertainty regarding whether it could meet the Pentagon’s security requirements for JEDI. In June, the company opted not to renew an artificial intelligence-based contract—called Project Maven—it held with the Pentagon after its employees voiced opposition to performing work that could be used for lethal purposes.
Bids for JEDI, a hotly contested contract that will put a single cloud provider in charge of caches of secret and top secret military and defense data, were due Oct. 12. On that date, a purported group of anonymous Microsoft employees voiced opposition to the contract through a Medium blog post.
Microsoft bid anyway. Amazon Web Services also bid on the contract, as did IBM and Oracle, who have both filed bid protests against JEDI.
“Microsoft submitted its bid on the JEDI contract on the October 12 deadline. While we don’t have a way to verify the authenticity of this letter, we always encourage employees to share their views with us,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to Nextgov.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shed more light on the company’s thinking as it relates to Google’s decision and other potentially controversial government work in previously unreported remarks from an Oct. 10 appearance at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
“We’re an American company and a multinational company. We fundamentally rely on the trust in American values. We fundamentally rely on our form of government to engender trust in everything that we do, not just in the United States but across the world,” Nadella said, responding to a question about Google’s decision posed by a Navy midshipman. “We will have our own committee that will really direct us in terms of what engagements we do or don’t do, and especially when it comes to the United States and liberal democracies at large, we will rely on our democratic process and the institutions that we work with and their own ethics as well.”
Nadella said Microsoft has a four-decades-old partnership with the Defense Department and added that the U.S.“armed forces have a fundamental grounding on what it means to deploy any technology or practice which is ethically used.”
Google’s decision to back out of the Pentagon’s Project Maven and JEDI contracts show a broader battle between Silicon Valley companies and the federal government. Last week, one of the top acquisition officials at Customs and Border Protection said political protests against contractors that assist in some Trump administration policies have become a “huge problem.” For example, Salesforce and Palantir have faced protests over contracts with CBP. Such protests cause a politically charged environment that could reduce the flow of ideas and talent from the private sector to government.