Since officially awarding the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) contract late last year, a top Defense Department (DoD) official said today they have been working towards enabling the JWCC to get the best possible value from the commercial cloud vehicle. 


“First step was to award the contract, which was not a small fit. It took a massive lift across the department,” the DoD’s Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) for Information Enterprise, Lily Zeleke, said during the first day of AFCEA’s TechNet Cyber event in Baltimore, Maryland. 


“Now we’ve got to get organized amongst ourselves, and that doesn’t just happen naturally. We have to put structure around it, and, again, we’re working with our partners to make sure that we put the right governance, the right guidance, in order to be able to guide this,” Zeleke said during the May 2 event. 


“Why is that important? We’ve learned so much about what the military departments are doing with cloud. This is not our first initial cloud contract,” she continued, adding, “We’ve been doing cloud for years and years, so we’ve taken all the best practices and really honestly the gaps that we have – like tactical edge, multi-cloud, multi-vendor, direct access to the CSPs [cloud service providers] – and we’ve put it together to bring some goodness for the entire department.”


“We’re going to organize with our partners to make sure that we put the right enterprise-level guidance, the right policies, if necessary, to enable the use of this contract to get the best possible value – whether it’s cost or commercial parody or any additional capabilities that we need to be able to use this cloud contract to the best and maximum possible,” the DCIO stated. 


Zeleke reiterated that building structure around the JWCC contract means building a baseline about where the department stands, ensuring there are no duplicative cloud contracts across the DoD, among other organizational activities. 


The Acting Chief Information Officer for the Navy, Jane Rathbun, agreed that “standards and guardrails are going to be critical” for the JWCC.


The four DoD officials said during the panel that they collaborated across their different departments – the Navy, the Air Force, and the Intelligence Community (IC) – to enable the JWCC contract. 


David Salvagnini, the chief enterprise architect at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said that leveraging strategic partnerships for the JWCC contract helped the department and the IC “garner the best value it can from the set of cloud providers that are available to us, and that means having a willingness to think about what’s the greater good for the taxpayer, what’s the greater good for the IC, the greater good for the department.” 


The DoD selected Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle for its $9 billion JWCC contract in December 2022. The four tech giants will compete for work tied to JWCC, which spans unclassified, secret, and top-secret designations. Each is guaranteed only $100,000, though potential orders could total billions, according to the terms of the JWCC. The contract comprises a three-year base and one-year options, meaning work could be done through 2028.


Salvagnini admitted that the defense community is familiar and comfortable with the four big tech giants, like Amazon. 


“We’ve got to figure out how to allow our workforce to think beyond Amazon because there are a lot of possibilities available to us outside of what Amazon brings to the fight,” Salvagnini said. “We have to encourage our workforce to look at the other cloud providers, break away from what they’re currently comfortable with, and start looking at other capabilities.” 


All four of the DoD cloud experts said that workforce is one of the biggest challenges they currently face. 


“The workforce – that’s our biggest challenge, in my view. Because we need to get the workforce to get used to [cloud], it’s a cultural shift but also, we need to equip them to be able to use cloud,” DoD’s DCIO Zeleke said. “There’s a lot of work to be done there upskilling.” 


The Navy’s Acting CIO said her agency is working to combat this workforce problem by establishing the NEPTUNE Cloud Management Office. This office will be a place where employees or contractors can go to get help with the Navy’s cloud, cloud management, cloud delivery, and cloud onboarding, Rathbun said. 


As the DoD and officials begin to move forward on next steps with the JWCC, Rathbun said that cloud needs to be top of mind at the department. 


“Just like we do for any major warfighting activity – whether it’s ship operations, land operations, air operations – we build tactics and procedures, we build con-ops, and how we’re going to actually carry out the mission,” she said. “This is no different. We have to treat our IT – our maneuverability of data – the way we treat all of our other warfighting capabilities.” 

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.