Mar 28, 2017

Trump could intervene in fight over Pentagon tech contract

Cliff Owen / AP

A court blocked Palantir, a software company, from bidding last year on an Army data analytics program that is currently overpriced and underperforming. Palantir said it could supply a system (at around $100 million/yr) that would give soldiers information about weather, terrain, and likely locations for ambushes and roadside bombs. Palantir is appealing the ruling.

Given Trump's track record of vying with Boeing and Lockheed Martin for cheaper contracts, he could swoop in and change the game in order to cut costs, according to Fortune.

The claims from Palantir's case imply the government's terms for bids excluded Palantir from the start:

The Army has, "a failed procurement approach that is unlawful, that bene­fits no one but the incumbent defense contracting industry, that irrationally resists innovation from Silicon Valley, that wastes billions in taxpayer dollars, and that even risks the lives and effectiveness of our Soldiers in uniform" and has "an attitude that effectively tells units in the field, 'Don't let your war get in the way of our program.'"

Rebuttal from an Army official who used to head up procurement: "These people came in and said, 'We have our own business model and we're going to fight to the death for it.'"

It's about the establishment, too: Instead of Palantir's the Army chose a system — that often sits unplugged and unused because it's so archaic — from a team of establishment beltway defense contractors. As Congressman Duncan Hunter put it, "The Army...is full of fiefdoms, where they all protect their people and their programs. Palantir had no chance." That dynamic could play to Trump's anti-establishment style.

The Palantir-Trump Admin connection: Peter Thiel, one of Palantir's co-founders, is a Trump ally. Plus, Mike Flynn, H.R. McMaster, and Jim Mattis have been vocal supporters of Palantir's technology.

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