Microsoft will not pull out of the competition for a $10 billion cloud contract for the Department of Defense, despite growing concerns about private companies selling new technologies to the federal government.
The Redmond, Wash., company defended its position in a blog post Friday, claiming that technologists should be involved in government adoption of new innovations to ensure they are not misused.
Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in the post that “to withdraw from this market is to reduce our opportunity to engage in the public debate about how new technologies can best be used in a responsible way.”
He decided to share publicly sentiments that he and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discussed at a monthly Q&A with employees Thursday.
“We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their back,” Smith wrote. “They will have access to the best technology that we create.”
The debate centers around DOD’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project. DOD is soliciting bids for a massive overhaul of its IT infrastructure, moving operations into the cloud with a single vendor. Amazon is seen as a frontrunner for the project though Microsoft is also making its case.
Earlier this month, Google announced it would not submit a bid for JEDI “because first, we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.”
Big tech companies are facing increased scrutiny over the tools they provide the federal government. Microsoft has been taking heat for providing software to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. More than 100 employees signed an open letter to Nadella demanding that the company end its contract with ICE amid the federal government’s immigration crackdown.
“We understand that some of our employees may have different views,” Smith wrote Friday. “We don’t ask or expect everyone who works at Microsoft to support every position the company takes.”
He said that employees always have the option to switch to different projects or departments within Microsoft if they feel uncomfortable.
Applications for JEDI were due two weeks ago and both Amazon and Microsoft submitted bids. Smith says that Microsoft will continue to work with the federal government while advocating for policies that prevent abuse of new technologies.
“No tech company has been more active than Microsoft in addressing the public policy and legal issues raised by new technology, especially government surveillance and cyber weapons,” he wrote.