Tech firm to sue Army over software contract
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.