Thornberry says DoD needs to do its homework early on cloud

Congress wants the Defense Department to do something parents can never get their kids to do: finish their homework early.

The cloud is a contentious subject right now and as the Pentagon prepares to award some serious funds to cloud services, Congress wants to know it’s doing it right.

That’s why House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) says the House version of the 2019 defense authorization bill is fencing off funds for the JEDI contract until Congress gets some concrete answers on cloud.

“I really want to know that they have thought through not just this particular contract, but where cloud is going throughout the department,” Thornberry said, during a June 14 meeting with reporters in Washington. “We are going to pay close attention to it not just because it’s a lot of money and because it’s a shift in the way they do business, but because cloud computing is going to be really important to the future of the military.”

Thornberry said cloud will be especially important in the implications of artificial intelligence, weapons systems and even management of the department.

The chairman said he wants to make sure the cloud DoD invests in is searchable by auditors and its databases are well organized.

“The biggest problem in not having an audit is you have so many databases that won’t talk to each other. This has implications for the management of the department as well as the development of military capabilities, so it’s important to get it right,” Thornberry said.

The Armed Services Committees implemented hundreds of acquisition reforms over the past few years. Part of the reforms were to make sure DoD spent more of its time figuring out acquisition projects before it started spending money.

Congress hoped by doing that the programs would be better planned, more efficient and move faster.

Thornberry said Congress is being especially careful about that as it moves forward with the JEDI contract, hence the fencing of funds.

Fencing off funds is “always used as a tool either to get information from the department or you are trying to get their attention that you have concerns that you think [DoD is] not fully satisfying and it’s a way to highlight it to senior leaders’ attention because presumably if there is a fence on money, the leadership of the department becomes aware of that,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The House 2019 defense authorization bill prohibits DoD from using 50 percent of the funds authorized for JEDI until the defense secretary can provide Congress with information sufficient to conduct oversight of the acquisition.

“The committee is concerned with the lack of information supporting the planned acquisition of JEDI from a single commercial provider. This includes lack of detail regarding security requirements and associated costs, anticipated cost-savings, migration costs, and how the Department intends to maintain the ability to leverage the latest cloud computing capabilities and preserve the ability to transition workloads and data to other providers,” the House bill report states. “Additionally, the committee has not been provided with details on customer capability requirements or how JEDI impacts current cloud computing services and other activities. … The committee expects the Department to provide sufficient information necessary for the conduct of oversight responsibilities”

The House Armed Services Committee isn’t the only one upset about JEDI.

The Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations Committee want answers too.

The Senate bill includes language requiring DoD to lay more technological groundwork within its own networks. The agency is preparing to transition key IT systems from government-operated infrastructure to off-site cloud hosts.

Senators expressed concern that DoD’s Cloud Executive Steering Group, the body that’s leading the JEDI procurement, has been so preoccopied with planning the contract itself that it’s neglected the “enabling activities” and “preconditions” the department will need to address if it’s going to successfully support its IT systems once they’re in the cloud.

“The committee emphasizes the importance … of modernizing networks by adopting advanced commercial capabilities,” lawmakers wrote in a report accompanying the bill. “Network modernization is essential for cybersecurity, supporting service-level agreements for cloud services, ensuring efficient cloud access, and consolidating networks.”

Specifically, the legislation would demand that DoD draw up a plan to “rapidly acquire advanced commercial network capabilities, including software-defined networking, on-demand bandwidth and aggregated cloud access gateways, through commercial service providers.”

The plan would have to be delivered to Congress within three months of the bill’s enactment, assuming the Senate language survives the final House negotiation process.

The House defense appropriations bill restricts DoD from moving any applications or data to JEDI until it supplies another detailed report explaining how the new single-award contract fits in with the rest of the department’s cloud activities.

The moratorium would stay in place from whenever the appropriations bill is enacted until 90 days after the Pentagon supplies Congress with more details on its overall cloud spending.

Specifically, it would demand that the department deliver a plan to set up a new budgeting system that accounts for all the funds the military services and Defense agencies will use to migrate their data and systems to any cloud environment, including JEDI.