Grassley: Pentagon IG misrepresenting probe of nixed $10B Amazon contract, stonewalling Congress

Sen. Chuck Grassley blasts inspector general for showing "disdain" for congressional oversight, seeks answers over infamous JEDI contract

Updated: January 8, 2022 - 12:31pm

The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General is misrepresenting government records concerning a controversial Pentagon contract and stonewalling repeated requests by Congress for information to uncover the truth, according to a top Senate Republican.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter on Friday to Sean O'Donnell, acting inspector general for the Pentagon, demanding answers after the OIG "failed to provide full and complete responses" to Grassley's questions and concerns over the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI.

JEDI was a decade-long, $10 billion contract to give the Department of Defense a single cloud computing system. The department canceled the contract last year following much controversy over the procurement process, which led to charges that the Pentagon favored one bidder in particular: Amazon Web Services.

The contract ultimately went to Microsoft, however, after then-President Trump in 2019 asked for an investigation into JEDI over concerns that the contract requirements had been tailored for Amazon. The decision prompted Amazon to file a lawsuit, which brought the contract process to a halt until the project was nixed altogether.

Meanwhile, the DOD OIG investigated allegations of corruption between Amazon and senior Pentagon officials in the process of choosing a contractor for JEDI. In a final report released last year, the oversight agency said it found no conflicts, biases, or unethical conduct.

However, as Grassley detailed in his letter, whistleblowers and third parties obtaining records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) continue to say there was inappropriate and unethical favoritism in support of Amazon winning the contract.

"I continue to receive information from whistleblowers that suggests DOD OIG's investigative process and the resulting JEDI report is materially deficient," Grassley wrote. "Further, despite repeated calls between DOD OIG and multiple congressional offices, DOD OIG's continued failure to adequately respond to inquiries demands additional scrutiny."

Some of the documents obtained through FOIA requests paint a different picture of the JEDI procurement process than does the DOD OIG report, according to Grassley.

"Your position is untenable in light of the overwhelming evidence that clearly shows your office cut corners and misrepresented the full context of government records in your possession — records that your office failed to produce to Congress but were ultimately acquired by [FOIA] requesters," Grassley wrote to O'Donnell. "For more than two years, I have made repeated requests for information from DOD and the DOD OIG and both offices failed to provide full and complete responses. The only new and relevant documents that I received since the publication of the JEDI report were acquired by third party requesters of FOIA documents."

Grassley noted that, in response to his most recent letter on JEDI from August, the DOD IG replied to his requests by highlighting portions of documents to support its JEDI report while refusing to provide the very same documents in full.

"This pattern of repeated obfuscation by DOD OIG shows disdain and disregard for congressional oversight," Grassley wrote. "Moreover, DOD OIG's dismissive attitude toward well-documented concerns that individuals involved in the drafting and finalization of the JEDI report were responsible for omissions and material misrepresentations of key evidence does nothing to resolve the unanswered questions I've posed to you. In fact, it creates more questions."

Grassley outlined how twice in the DOD OIG's report, the office misrepresented opinions by the Pentagon's Standards of Conduct Office (SOCO) in order to support the report's conclusions. In one case, the JEDI report quotes a SOCO email in finding "no ethics objection" to a 2017 meeting between then-Defense Secretary Mattis and high-level Amazon officials, among others, without context. However, the actual, unredacted email shows that SOCO only evaluated the meeting on the narrow grounds of whether DOD's restrictions on meal gifts were triggered, never performing a full analysis into potential conflicts of interest.

In the second case, the JEDI report omits an entire paragraph from a SOCO opinion which details the "factors [that] should be taken into account" when evaluating potential conflicts for a meeting between Mattis and Amazon head Jeff Bezos. Some of these factors, Grassley argued, applied to senior Pentagon officials at the time, including Mattis's senior adviser, Sally Donnelly.

The DOD OIG failed to note for readers that any edit had been made to the substance of the opinion. "Any reader of the JEDI report would clearly obtain a false impression of the full SOCO opinions as written," Grassley wrote.

When asked for comment on Grassley's letter, the DOD OIG said it received the document and is reviewing the contents and his concerns.

"As a matter of practice the DOD OIG does not comment on our internal communications with members of Congress, and will continue to work with Sen. Grassley closely on this matter," the agency told Just the News.

Grassley also noted other records obtained through FOIA requests which raise questions about Donnelly, who ran a consulting firm, SBD Advisors, before entering the Pentagon as Mattis's top adviser. Amazon was one of SBD's clients.

One document, for example, shows Donnelly, then at the Pentagon, and current Amazon employees discussing "landmines [to] avoid" during an upcoming "sales pitch" with Mattis. Other communications show Pentagon employees explaining how "[Donnelly] is already working" to "crush bureaucratic impediments" to the JEDI contract, apparently to pave the way for Amazon to secure it.

The DOD OIG's report didn't mention these emails, which, according to Grassley, indicate "conflicts infected the JEDI procurement process and Donnelly should have been recused from all JEDI matters in light of her previous work for" Amazon.

Grassley has requested documents regarding the sales contract for SBD Advisors, which Donnelly owned. Shortly before becoming Mattis's adviser, Donnelly sold her SBD shares to unknown individuals. She then received payments while working at the Pentagon and collaborating with Amazon. So far, the DOD has only provided redacted versions of the sales documents. It remains unclear who invested in Donnelly's company after she sold it.

To conclude his letter, Grassley demanded that his questions regarding both the DOD OIG report and the JEDI program be resolved before JEDI's successor contract, the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability, is awarded.

"It might be that the Defense Department Inspector General's office just has some clarification to provide, or it might be that they fell down on the job and are too embarrassed to clean up mistakes," Grassley said upon sending his letter Friday. "There are clear problems with the lack of investigation of an adviser's connections to Amazon Web Services and the inexplicable blockade of legitimate document requests from Congress."

Just the News has reached out to Sally Donnelly for comment, and has yet to hear back.

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