Pentagon's Cloud Transition Under Hush Order From Weapons Buyer

(Bloomberg) -- Pentagon weapons buyer Ellen Lord has ordered senior officials not to make any further public comments about the Defense Department’s looming initiative to move its data into the cloud, a major contract opportunity for technology companies.

“It is imperative that no one speaks outside the Department” about the Enterprise Cloud Adoption project, Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisitions, said in a Dec. 5 email obtained by Bloomberg News. “This memo is effective immediately and is especially pertinent to those attending/speaking at external engagements with members outside the government.”

Lord is leading the effort to move the Pentagon toward cloud computing in a bid to preserve the U.S. military’s technological advantages over China and Russia while finding new ways to secure sensitive databases. She has said separate data silos -- even within each military service -- prevent real-time sharing of information among war-fighters and adoption of new technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

In response to a Defense Department request for information, industry groups such as the Professional Services Council have registered concern that contracts be awarded to multiple companies rather than a single winner. “Do not arbitrarily limit the number of contract awards” and “avoid vendor lock-in,” the council said in a list of recommendations.

Potential Value

No dollar figure has yet been attached to the contract, but Bloomberg Government anticipates it could be valued at $500 million or more with a formal request for proposals to be issued in January or February.

Lord chairs a Pentagon executive steering group established to guide the emerging strategy after Deputy Secretary Patrick Shanahan emphasized the need to make cloud storage a priority in a Sept. 13 memo. It followed visits by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to Seattle and Silicon Valley, where the former Marine Corps general saw how commercial entities are using secure cloud applications to protect against cyberattacks.

Lord told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the Pentagon has received 52 responses to its request for information and all of the military services “right now are working on how we’re going to go about that contract," she said. "We don’t know how we’re going to structure it yet.”

Reducing ‘Misinformation’

But for now, Lord has instructed senior officials not to discuss the initiative. Her memo went to top Pentagon leaders, including General Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Inspector General Glenn Fine and spokeswoman Dana White.

Navy Commander Patrick Evans, Lord’s spokesman, said that periodically Lord or “someone she directs will communicate with the team to provide direction and guidance. That’s what leaders do. In this specific case, her guidance is to only have people working on the cloud initiative, which is pre-decisional, speaking about the topic to reduce the amount of misinformation that is being discussed publicly.”

The Pentagon has “incredible data that we don’t always turn really into information and knowledge, and part of the reason is that all of this data is in different places,” Lord said during a panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, this month. “So a fundamental shift we’re making is to move the entire DoD to the cloud so our data can be shared and leveraged and we can do big-data analytics, we can do artificial intelligence.”

“We are, no kidding, right now writing the contract to get everything moved to one cloud to begin with and then go from there," Lord said. “In the commercial world, all the data is there and you can mine it and use it and get more out of it.”

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