Son of Pentagon chief works at company that bid for contract

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Mark Esper

FILE – In this Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 file photo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks to a gathering of soldiers at the University Club at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. Esper says during a weekend trip to the Middle East that under the current plan all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq, and that the military will continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group to prevent a resurgence in that country. As Esper left Washington on Saturday, Oct. 19, U.S. troops were continuing to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion into the border region. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Mark Esper has removed himself from decision-making on a cloud computing contract potentially worth $10 billion, citing his son’s employment with one of the original contract bidders.

In a written statement Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Esper recused himself from decisions on the so-called JEDI contract “out of an abundance of caution to avoid any concerns regarding his impartiality.”

The Pentagon is in the final stages of determining the winner of the initial $1 million Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract, which could be worth as much as $10 billion over 10 years if all options are exercised.

Hoffman did not identify Esper’s son by name. His son Luke is identified on his Linked-In page as a “digital strategy consultant” at IBM, which was an original bidder for the JEDI contract.

IBM was dropped from the competition, along with Oracle, and both companies have complained that the contracting process is rigged in favor of Amazon Web Services Inc., a division of Amazon.

Amazon and Microsoft Corp. are finalists for the contract.

A U.S. Federal Claims Court judge last summer ruled in favor of the Pentagon’s assertion that the contracting process has been fair. In August, the Pentagon’s independent auditor disclosed that it was conducting a broad review of the handling of the project. The probe includes an investigation of potential misconduct by current or former Defense Department officials involved in the project.

Hoffman said Esper was not legally required to recuse himself, but did so after receiving what Hoffman called informational briefings on the JEDI contract.

Esper delegated decision-making responsibility on the JEDI program to Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, Hoffman said.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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