Oracle Corp. is leading a campaign in Washington to prevent Amazon.com Inc. from winning a lucrative Defense Department computing contract that’ll be awarded in coming months, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The Oracle-led effort relies on a loose coalition of technology companies also seeking a slice of the Pentagon work, including Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp., said the people, who described the matter on condition of anonymity. Dell Technologies Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. are also participating, said one of the people.
Their goal is to make sure that the award process is opened up to more than one company and unseat Amazon as the front-runner for the multibillion-dollar deal. As part of the campaign, the people said, Oracle is holding regular calls with tech allies, courting trade and mainstream media and lobbying lawmakers, defense officials and the White House.
The tech companies are jockeying for a piece of the Pentagon’s cloud business, which will provide a rich revenue stream and give the winner an edge in government cloud computing. Oracle has long-term contracts with many departments that use its flagship database to store information on their own systems. As the agencies look to switch to cloud computing and eye market-leader Amazon, Oracle’s traditional revenue sources could be under threat. Oracle has tried to protect its database business by offering cloud services of its own, but has come late to that market.
The Pentagon has said it intends to move the department’s technology needs — 3.4 million users and 4 million devices — to the cloud, indicating the massive size of the award. Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have repeatedly said no decision about the winner-take-all contract has been pre-made and that bids will be considered on their merits, with an award to a company or a team of companies expected in September. But Amazon’s dominant market share in the cloud-contracting business is seen by many analysts as giving it a significant advantage in the competition.
“Of course Oracle is interested in competing for the DoD cloud contract and we are equally interested in the mission success of the DoD,” said Oracle’s Senior Vice President Ken Glueck in a statement. The best approach “is to have an open competition, allowing DoD to choose from many competing, innovative, modern, secure cloud architectures,” Glueck said.
IBM said in a statement it has been advocating for a multi-cloud approach for months, without commenting on whether it’s involved in an Oracle-led coalition.
‘Fair and Open’
Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord said the competition is fair and open and that the department continues to have multiple cloud contracts.
“No decisions have been made and we are working with a variety of companies,” Lord said. “I see no focus toward one company whatsoever.”
Amazon, Microsoft and HPE declined to comment. Dell said it competes with Oracle on hardware products but collaborates to make sure their products can be used together, and declined to comment about whether it’s working with an Oracle group.
The battle over the Pentagon work is unfolding behind closed doors as Amazon faces withering broadsides from President Donald Trump. Trump has assailed the company and its founder Jeff Bezos in a series of tweets and public statements that escalated in late March, criticizing its delivery contract with the U.S. Postal Service and its tax practices. The attacks have raised speculation that Trump’s true concern is Bezos’s ownership of The Washington Post, which aggressively and critically covers him and his administration. Thursday night, Trump ordered the creation of a task force to review USPS’s business practices.
While Trump has used his Twitter account to press for lower costs for weapons systems such as Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 and Boeing Co.’s new Air Force One planes, any attempt to intervene in a contract competition pitting rival companies would be unprecedented.
It also would provide losing bidders with grounds to challenge an award through the Government Accountability Office and the courts, which would be likely to unearth emails, phone records or memos from bureaucrats documenting the interference.
While Oracle’s $187 billion market value is less than a third of Amazon’s, it punches way above its weight in Washington, where it has a team of seasoned policy officials and personal relationships that go all the way to the top.
Trump personally ordered the Justice Department to hire Oracle’s Ezra Cohen-Watnick to advise Attorney General Jeff Sessions on national security matters, according to people familiar with the matter. Cohen-Watnick went to Oracle in August after leaving the National Security Council, where he had been caught up in a controversy over the release of intelligence material to a member of Congress, according to people familiar with the matter.
Glueck has led Oracle’s government affairs shop in Washington for more than 20 years while the company sparred with other companies in the capital, including funding investigations into Microsoft during its antitrust trial and more recently supporting anti-sex trafficking legislation that was initially opposed by tech trade groups representing Alphabet Inc.’s Google, among other internet platforms.
Last year, the company brought on Vice President Mike Pence’s former chief of staff and longtime aide Josh Pitcock to be its vice president of government affairs. Former Hill staffers Joel Hinzman and Jason Mahler have been with Oracle since 2003 and 2010, respectively.
Oracle’s Co-Chief Executive Officer Safra Catz was an early supporter of Trump, and days after he won the election, Catz visited the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York and subsequently served on the executive committee of his transition team. Trump’s inner circle also had shown interest in Catz and spoken with her about the positions of U.S. Trade Representative and the Director of National Intelligence, according to people familiar with the matter.
Catz also joined the American Technology Council, a White House effort headed by onetime Microsoft finance chief Chris Liddell to seek the private sector’s input on modernizing the federal government’s technology among other issues.
White House Dinner
On April 4, during a private dinner at the White House, where Catz was a guest of venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a longtime Trump supporter, she criticized the bidding process for the cloud contract, complaining that it seemed tilted in Amazon’s favor, according to people familiar with the matter.
Trump listened and assured her the contract competition would be fair, but made no indication he’d interfere in the bidding, the people said. Catz didn’t emphasize that her company is competing with Amazon for the award, the people added.
While it’s best-known for being the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon also operates Amazon Web Services, the market’s top cloud-computing business. AWS has already won a similar contract with the Central Intelligence Agency, showing it can manage sensitive government information. That has contributed to making Amazon the leading contender to win the Pentagon cloud deal that may be as long as 10 years.
While Mattis told lawmakers at a hearing on Thursday that “it is a fair and open competition for anyone who wants to come in,” he also praised the CIA’s cloud project run by Amazon.
“We’ve examined what CIA achieved in terms of availability of data” and “also security of their data, and it’s very impressive,” Mattis said at the hearing.
The battle for a piece of the contract could be a windfall for K Street. Amazon spent $12.8 million on lobbyists in 2017, according to federal disclosures filed with Congress, but faces well-funded challengers. Oracle said it spent nearly $9 million. Microsoft spent $8.6 million, IBM spent $5.3 million, HP Enterprise $5 million and Dell $4 million, disclosures show.
The anti-Amazon group has already claimed some significant victories, including Congress’s directive to the Pentagon in the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed in March to explain why it’s planning a single source award for the cloud contract, those people said. While the people attributed the provision to lobbying by Oracle and other companies, another person involved in the process said the language reflects lawmakers’ own concerns about the competition.
Another win was the Pentagon’s decision last month to pare back a nearly $1 billion dollar cloud contract awarded to REAN Cloud LLC., a cloud migration company most of whose clients work with AWS, after Oracle formally protested the bid.
In the meantime, other Amazon opponents have emerged, including a conservative columnist and activist named Seton Motley.
Motley said he launched an advertising campaign in the New York Post goading Trump not to let the Pentagon give the cloud contract solely to Amazon. The campaign, which has a companion website, shows photos of Bezos laughing and chatting with Mattis with a fictional letter from Bezos telling Trump that the contract “will really help my many efforts to oppose your Administration’s policies.” Motley said he’s paying for the ads himself and has had no contacts with Amazon’s competitors.
Amazon is seeking allies of its own in the federal procurement sector. Earlier this year, Amazon hosted an event with several technology companies to propose starting a new coalition aimed at helping the government find commercial solutions for its technology needs, according to two people familiar with the event.
Amazon hasn’t made any announcement about the effort and didn’t respond to requests for comment about the initiative.