Deasy takes control of JEDI, but fate of DoD’s cloud steering group is up in the air

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The Pentagon on Monday added some clarity to what it meant by a vague statement it issued a week earlier announcing that its new chief information officer would assume responsibility for the Defense Department’s “cloud initiative.” But a significant portion of the department’s cloud planning effort remains up in the air.

In a memo DoD provided to Federal News Radio, the department made explicit that the new CIO, Dana Deasy, is now in charge of the upcoming multi-billion dollar Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract. The memo, signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, orders the program management office conducting the JEDI procurement to be transferred to Deasy’s “authority, direction and control.”

Previously, the JEDI effort — and DoD’s broader cloud strategy — had been overseen by the Cloud Executive Steering Group (CESG), a cross-functional leadership team Shanahan assembled last September and then restructured in January. While the latest iteration gave the CIO’s office a vote, the group was chaired by John Gibson, DoD’s chief management officer, and the Defense Digital Service had direct responsibility for conducting the JEDI acquisition.

In the memo, Shanahan said it’s also his “intent” that Deasy serve as the lead for the department’s overall cloud initiative. But in response to questions about whether the CESG still exists and what responsibilities it still has, the department said the answers are yet to be determined.

“As a part of designating CIO as lead for cloud, the department is reviewing existing governance structures and reporting chains and will take deliberate steps to realign authorities as necessary,” Heather Babb, a Defense spokeswoman said in a statement. “This process is expected to occur over the coming weeks.”

Under the CESG’s initial charter, the JEDI acquisition was to be only the first phase of Shanahan’s multi-step plan to “accelerate” DoD’s move to commercial cloud services, an initiative he had dubbed “a department priority.”

The second phase was supposed to have been led by the department’s Strategic Capabilities Office, which Shanahan had assigned the task of deciding which DoD systems should be migrated to the new cloud environment first and “operationaliz[ing] the mission using the security, software and machine learning technologies that cloud technology provides.”

The Defense Department had previously told vendors and lawmakers that it would release a final JEDI request for proposals by May. But those predictions were made before Deasy was sworn in as CIO, and before he took over responsibility for JEDI.

On Monday, DoD declined to offer an updated prediction for when an RFP might be released, but denied that Deasy had directed any significant changes.

“There has been no change to the JEDI Cloud acquisition, and DoD is continuing to review the final RFP before it is released. I do not have an exact date at this time,” Babb said.

To date, the aspect of the JEDI acquisition that has generated the most criticism from Congress and industry groups  has been the department’s decision to make the multi-billion dollar award to a single cloud technology vendor, or perhaps a single team of vendors. Among other factors, critics contend a single-award approach would deprive the military of much of the innovation that’s certain to take place over the next several years in the dynamic, competitive commercial marketplace for cloud services.

In a May report to Congress, the department justified that decision by saying its plans for rapidly moving Defense applications to the cloud would be delayed if it were to issue a multiple-award contract, because it would have to conduct separate competitions each time it issued a task order.

“That pace could prevent DoD from rapidly delivering new capabilities and improved effectiveness to the warfighter that enterprise-level cloud computing can enable,” officials wrote.

Defense officials have not indicated whether that stance has changed since Deasy’s arrival, nor have they given any hints as to what’s behind the delay of the final RFP.

Deasy himself has made few public remarks since he became CIO in May, though he spoke in general terms about his vision for the job, including cloud computing, during remarks at AFCEA’s defensive cyber operations symposium in Baltimore about a week after taking office.

“Cloud is one of the most iterative things I’ve ever been involved with in 36-plus years,” he said. “First of all, there’s not a singular thing that cloud is. There’s a lot of different things to what makes up a cloud, and so one of the things I find you have to do early on to get clear what conversation you’re in … and to understand this is not a case of trying to lift out of your old world and suddenly trying to drop into a new world. But this is the most phenomenal opportunity I think we’ve ever experienced, to be able to look at your legacy estate and re-engineer.”

Read more of the DoD Reporter’s Notebook.