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Amazon advised US government on a portal that could make it billions

A top Amazon executive advised officials on a key procurement portal, reports the Guardian.
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A key Amazon executive and former Obama administration official privately advised the US government on a procurement portal that could be worth billions to the company, the Guardian reports. Director of Government Anne Rung corresponded with an official at the General Services Administration (GSA) about how the government could create a purchasing portal, even before the legislation -- called the "Amazon Amendment" -- was created.

According to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Rung wrote Marie Davie, director of the GSA's program management office, saying: "IF the legislation is enacted, I have a sense of how GSA will want to approach this (first you have to select providers, then you will want to implement something incrementally/phased approach), but I want to make sure that I'm not way off the mark. It will help me design a discussion/agenda for our meeting next month." Rung reportedly also asked if they should wait to discuss it until the legislation is passed, but Davie replied that the Trump administration was planning on moving ahead regardless.

No company has been given special access. Instead, all companies expressing interest in the Commercial Platforms program have equal access to GSA. We cannot speculate on which companies will be part of the proof of concept until proposals are received, evaluated, and awards are made.

The market for federal procurement is worth around $53 billion, and Amazon appears to be a front runner, according to a report last year in The Intercept. The National Defense Authorization Act, passed last year, contains language that would move Defense Department purchases of commercial products like paperclips, staplers and office furniture to "online marketplaces." Though this would theoretically open the market to any site, the bill also states the program must "enable government-wide use of such marketplaces," requiring very large scale sites.

The email exchange doesn't necessarily show any illegal activity, but reveals how Amazon uses former US bureaucrats to help the company procure potentially lucrative government contracts. The firm already runs a cloud service for the CIA and other intelligence services, and is expected to win a $10 billion cloud contract for the Pentagon's "Jedi" project -- the same one that Google dropped following employee protests. Amazon's cloud success in those areas has been attributed to its hiring of former Air Force brigadier general Steven Spano, according to the Guardian.

Amazon declined to comment for the article (Engadget has reached out), but the GSA told the Guardian that it met with 35 potential suppliers in 2017 and 2018. "No company has been given special access. Instead, all companies expressing interest in the Commercial Platforms program have equal access to GSA," it said in a statement. "We cannot speculate on which companies will be part of the proof of concept until proposals are received, evaluated, and awards are made."

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