Here's to Knowing That Again

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© Joe Casad, Editor in Chief

© Joe Casad, Editor in Chief

Article from Issue 233/2020
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This column is about IT, not about politics. The names of politicians sometimes come up in this space – mostly because of something they did that is related to IT, but it is never my goal to descend into the political fray.

Dear Reader,

This column is about IT, not about politics. The names of politicians sometimes come up in this space – mostly because of something they did that is related to IT, but it is never my goal to descend into the political fray. In fact, I honestly believe the whole reason the political fray exists is because it is much easier to reduce everything to politics than it is to deal directly with the perplexing and often unsolvable issues that politicians face: social responsibility, economics, national security, personal liberty. A collection of opinions on these perplexing topics is often encapsulated into a convenient bundle plan that is associated with a particular politician, and when you say you like that politician, you imply some level of comfort with that politician's opinion bundle. Seems like it rarely ever gets much deeper than that.

On February 13, a federal judge issued an injunction to stop work on the massive Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud project for the US Department of Defense (DoD). Amazon had brought the suit in an attempt to prevent the $10 billion project from going to the contract winner, Microsoft. In the USA, a flurry of lawsuit threats often follows the awarding of a gigantic government contract. A common legal theory behind many of these post-award legal maneuvers is that the contract was awarded in "bad faith," meaning that the government agency was acting with animus toward one of the losing bidders. These lawsuits hardly ever work, because bad faith is very difficult to prove, and the legal standard is that it must be proved convincingly – mere inference or innuendo are not enough, and even incompetence or negligence isn't a compelling argument. You really have to show that the government acted with malice. So usually it doesn't work. However, legal experts say the judge wouldn't have issued the injunction unless the case had at least some likelihood of succeeding in court. Amazon Web Services had to put a $42 million deposit, which they will forfeit if it is proven that the injunction to stop the project was wrongly issued.

Given the difficulty in proving bad faith, why do the judge and plaintiff seem so confident that there might be a case this time? Because former Secretary of Defense James Mattis has written that the president told him directly to "screw Amazon" on the JEDI contract [1]. Mattis, who is well regarded by most members of Congress and was affirmed in the Senate on a vote of 98-1 (the one no vote being a Democrat), is thought to be a highly credible source.

President Trump has a long-standing feud with Amazon president Jeff Bezos that apparently stems from Bezos's ownership of the Washington Post. Trump stated in 2015 that he hoped Amazon "…would crumble like a paper bag" [2], and, according to legal documents filed with the injunction, "…it was reported in April 2018 that President Trump discussed with his advisors ways to 'escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company'" [3]. Amazon is seeking the opportunity to depose witnesses and gather information to determine what the president meant when he told the Secretary of Defense to "screw Amazon."

I can't remember any previous president (of either party) spending this much time worrying about how to "screw" or "damage" a legal US corporation. Conservatives, in particular, who have spent years rallying around the philosophy that "government should not be picking the winners and losers" in the business world, should be very concerned about the propriety of such remarks and should be leading the charge for more information.

Of course, once the evidence comes out, it might not bear out Amazon's side of the story, in which case, Amazon would not be the first company to overstate its case. But the extreme nature of the president's tweets, and what appears to be a direct order to "screw" a company that is competing for a government contract, raise serious questions about the integrity of the process.

Note that I'm not writing this to be pro-Amazon or anti-Trump or anti-DoD. What I'm really talking about is the IT procurement process. The leader of the government should not talk about "screwing" one of the bidders on a government contract for the same reason that a basketball referee should not talk about "screwing" one of the teams in a basketball game. We used to know that. Here's to knowing that again sometime soon….

Infos

  1. "Trump Ordered Mattis to 'Screw Amazon' on Pentagon Contract According to New Book": https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/26/politics/amazon-donald-trump-jim-mattis-pentagon-contract/index.html
  2. "Trump Chides Amazon Head Bezos and His Washington Post": https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-bezos-washington-post-amazon-401876
  3. Federal Claims Protest (Redacted Version): https://cdn.pacermonitor.com/pdfserver/37BX4IY/119628238/AMAZON_WEB_SERVICES_INC_v_USA__cofce-19-01796__0111.0.pdf

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