Tech firm to sue Army over soft­ware con­tract

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Army has a new ad­ver­sary in its bat­tle to build a ground in­tel­li­gence net­work the way it wants.

Palan­tir Corp., whose data pro­ces­sor has won praises for re­li­a­bil­ity and ease of use from troops in the field, has given writ­ten no­tice to the Army that it plans to file a protest law­suit.

The Sil­i­con Val­ley tech firm ac­cuses the Army of il­le­gally ex­clud­ing its off-the-shelf soft­ware from an on­go­ing project to build the next ver­sion of the Dis­trib­uted Com­mon Ground Sys­tem, known as In­cre­ment 2.

With mil­lions of dol­lars at stake, Palan­tir as­serts that the so­lic­i­ta­tion is writ­ten in a way to ac­cept only newly de­vel­oped sys­tems from Army con­trac­tors.

“The so­lic­i­ta­tions re­fuses to so­licit or ac­cept bids from any of­fer­ers who have al­ready built a data man­age­ment plat­form as a com­mer­cial prod­uct and could be­gin im­me­di­ately field­ing it to sol­diers in harm’s way,” Palan­tir says. “In­stead the so­lic­i­ta­tion seeks to be­gin another costly and risk-prone ma­jor soft­ware devel­op­ment project while sol­diers wait. … This ap­proach is un­law­ful, ir­ra­tional, ar­bi­trary and capri­cious.”

Palan­tir also ar­gues that the Army is vi­o­lat­ing a call-to-arms from De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter, who re­peat­edly has reached out to Sil­i­con Val­ley to form part­ner­ships with the armed forces to pro­duce the best in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy pos­si­ble.

Sol­diers in war zones have com­plained in con­fi­den­tial memos that the Dis­trib­uted Com­mon Ground Sys­tem, used for data stor­age and dis­tri­bu­tion, is un­work­able, prone to crashes and too slow to process searches of the en­emy.

Congress has passed leg­is­la­tion urg­ing the Army to change course and start in­cor­po­rat­ing soft­ware that al­ready is de­vel­oped and proven.

Dur­ing the long Afghanistan War against a hardto-find en­emy, a num­ber of units re­quested Army per­mis­sion to buy Palan­tir, only to meet re­sis­tance and de­lays. Those able to buy Palan­tir praised its speed and sim­plic­ity in an­swer­ing ba­sic ques­tions about on­go­ing bat­tles.

The com­mon ground sys­tem gained some trac­tion this year when the Pen­tagon’s top tester said it had been made op­er­a­tionally ef­fec­tive, an im­prove­ment from an ear­lier as­sess­ment. But the re­port con­tained a num­ber of crit­i­cisms, such as a lengthy train­ing pe­riod for sol­diers to op­er­ate it.

The Army, which has lost a num­ber of highly touted weapons sys­tems, does not want its prized in­tel­li­gence net­work to fall sec­ond to a prod­uct that it had no role in de­vel­op­ing, con­gres­sional staffers say.

‘Army bu­reau­cracy … in the way’

Palan­tir is rep­re­sented by the pow­er­house law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. David Boies rep­re­sented Al Gore in the Supreme Court case that de­cided the 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The com­pany’s June 16 let­ter quotes a memo from a se­nior of­fi­cer in the 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion.

“All the bul­let points [the Army] can list on a slide sit­ting back in the Pen­tagon don’t change the re­al­ity on the ground that their sys­tem doesn’t do what they say it does, and is more of a frus­tra­tion to deal with than a ca­pa­bil­ity to lever­age,” the of­fi­cer wrote. “We aren’t go­ing to sit here and strug­gle with an in­ef­fec­tive in­tel sys­tem while we’re in the mid­dle of a heavy fight tak­ing ca­su­al­ties. Palan­tir ac­tu­ally works.”

Rep. Dun­can Hunter, a for­mer Marine Corps of­fi­cer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been lead­ing the charge in Congress to re­struc­ture the com­mon ground sys­tem.

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