Life is different for a billionaire.
A few years before Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos bought a second home in Washington, D.C., he made a more important purchase: the local newspaper, the venerable Washington Post. This $250 million investment was a smart move for Bezos, as it guarantees Amazon will enjoy good press coverage in his new town. No reporter wants to write negative stories about the person who signs the paycheck.
Perhaps that’s why it has taken so long for the Post to zero in on a developing story: The Pentagon’s eagerness to hand Amazon Web Services a $10 billion exclusive contract to handle the military’s cloud computing needs. It’s been unfolding for months.
“Some technology companies think the Defense Department favors Amazon, which won a $600 million cloud contract with the Central Intelligence Agency in 2013 and, to date, has the highest levels of security clearances for its cloud infrastructure,” Bloomberg reported on October 4.
Outside-the-Beltway magazine Vanity Fair was even more direct. “[T]he deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon. According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win—or even apply for—the contract,” May Jeong wrote in August.
The Post has been getting scooped on its home turf. A fact that should embarrass any journalist, even if they were looking to “play softball” with the boss’s other business interests. Especially considering what’s at stake.
However, it is finally noticing the story. The coverage began with an interview with the Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer, Dana Deasy. “I’m here for a very specific purpose. I want to help the Defense Department put the best long-term technology in place,” he told the Post. That, of course, is what all Americans want.
The Pentagon absolutely should use cloud computing, just as companies in the private sector already do. But it should use several cloud providers, just as companies in the private sector already do. Cloud computing has led to the development of block-chain, which in turn has proven to the private sector that information can be securely stored in a fashion that can prevent catastrophic data loss from a single data breach. The concept of compartmentalizing classified information in the physical world is not a new one to the Pentagon, or our intelligence agencies for that matter, so why the disconnect when it comes to cyberspace?
“In the interview, Deasy was adamant that awarding the contract to a single company was in the Pentagon’s best interests and would give it a better chance of success to build a cloud system capable of serving the entire department,” the Post reports.
But this isn’t an airplane or a submarine, where there is only a single company with the know-how to build the project; there are plenty of cloud providers who could handle a chunk of the business. Also, the companies that build weapons systems for the Pentagon need exclusive contracts; it’s not as if they could sell those systems elsewhere. However, AWS has plenty of places it can sell cloud computing if it loses part of the military contract. There are no shortage of buyers in the public and private sectors.
The Post story goes on to add that the exclusive contract “comes as Amazon is moving aggressively to expand its business with the federal government, seeking to remake the $100 billion federal IT market just as it did commercial retail.”
You don’t say. Well, that’s actually exactly what we should be worried about. Amazon is crushing all competition in retail, and that’s leading to job losses at other retailers, including Macy’s and Sears. The U.S. government doesn’t need to help AWS control the cloud environment any more than the company already does.
“The key to competitive markets is that no one entity has too much control of the marketplace,” Amazon critic Scott Galloway points out to the New York Post. He’s an author and professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Galloway has called for breaking up Amazon. That might be taking things too far. But giving AWS an exclusive 10-year deal to control the Pentagon’s information is too far in the opposite direction.
The Pentagon needs to reconsider its single-source contract. Using different clouds to handle different data would keep it safer and would be less expensive over the long term. And the Washington Post needs to reconsider its role in covering federal spending. Its readers count on it to keep the military honest. That means reporting on big wasteful deals, even if they benefit its owner.
Tim Tapp is the host of the syndicated, conservative talk show “Tapp” into the Truth. He calls East Tennessee home, where he broadcasts and writes. He also still works in Quality Assurance for a food manufacturing company as he takes up the cause of defending our republic. Find out more at www.tappintothetruth.com.