GAO to CIA: Re-bid Cloud Contract

According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruling, it seems the CIA has given Amazon a biased advantage after consenting to lessen requirements regarding security after awarding the company a $150 million contract for a giant intelligence community computer cloud, as reported by Mashable. CIA-logo GAO

An auditor confirmed that Amazon requested the CIA weaken a security requirement after they had been awarded the contract, which stated any software in the cloud must be meticulously checked to be free of computer viruses. This was to avoid prying, unauthorized eyes from viewing sensitive intelligence data.

The Problem

Amazon asked the CIA to alter the requirement, making Amazon responsible solely for Amazon-built software rather than the open source and third party software to be included in the cloud system. The GAO said that the CIA agreed to this provision, and IBM, who had also bid on the contract, challenged this change.

According to the auditor, IBM could have provided a more reasonable, competitive bid if they had known beforehand that this requirement was open to negotiations. “It is a fundamental principle of government procurement that competition must be conducted on an equal basis,” said the GAO. “Offerors must be treated equally and provided with a common basis for the preparation of their proposals.”

GAO Recommendation

The GAO suggested the CIA reimburse IBM for the costs associated with challenging the award, and re-bid the contract. Although following the GAO rulings regarding bid protests aren't required, most agencies typically go along with their suggestions.

The Project

The CIA was looking for a computer cloud environment built totally on government property, and highly secure. It would be a hybrid, combining infrastructure-as-a-service and software-as-a-service, allowing agencies to either store their current operating systems in the cloud or use the operating systems provided in the cloud to run their applications and access their data.

The CIA will save money by turning from the traditional government data center to the cloud, while also giving them the ability to store massive amounts of data in order to perform computing operations that are highly complex.

Down With The Data Center

Moving away from the data center is a good thing, especially for the US government. A spokeswoman of the Office of Management and Budget recently stated the number of data centers managed by the federal government is upwards of 6,000, which is over 3,000 more than the number from a few months ago.

Why the sudden upswing? This is likely due to a policy change in 2011 that expanded what the government considers a data center to be, along with more agency inventories. It isn't an increase at all, according to the spokeswoman, Ari Isaacman Astles.

The 3,000 extra data centers were originally disclosed by David Powner, IT specialist for the Government Accountability Office, in testimony given to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “We are three years into the data center consolidation effort and the government still does not know how many centers it has,” Powner said. “Just last week we learned that about an additional 3,000 data centers are now being reported, bringing the government's total north of 6,000 data centers.”

IBM's Other Issues

The GAO sided with IBM on another aspect of their complaint. IBM said the CIA made another unfair move when they adjusted prices of the proposed cloud deal based on contradictory standards.

There were other items included in the complaint, but the GAO auditor threw them out.

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