The US defence secretary has recused himself from one of the most politically sensitive decisions he faces, handing over responsibility for awarding a $10bn cloud computing contract to his deputy.
Mark Esper has instructed his deputy, David Norquist, to decide whether Amazon or Microsoft should win the contract, known as Jedi, which would give one technology company control over vast swaths of the defence department’s data and communications.
Donald Trump has previously expressed concern that Amazon might win the contract, having clashed on several occasions with its chief executive Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post newspaper.
The Pentagon said Mr Esper was making the move out of an “abundance of caution regarding his impartiality” because his son worked for one of the companies originally involved in the bidding process — though it did not say which one.
Jonathan Raff Hoffman, a spokesman for the US Department of Defense, said: “Although not legally required to, he has removed himself from participating in any decision making . . . due to his adult son’s employment with one of the original contract applicants.”
The Jedi contract was due to be announced by the end of August, but Mr Esper launched a last-minute review into the bidding process soon after Mr Trump raised his concerns. The US president claimed “great companies are complaining about it”.
The Financial Times reported in August that as part of his review, Mr Esper had not asked for any additional information from either of the remaining bidders, prompting accusations that it was a politically motivated exercise to remove some of the heat from the decision.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday he had now completed his “informational briefings”, but would not make the final decision on which company should get the contract.
Mr Hoffman said: “The Jedi procurement will continue to move to selection through the normal acquisition process run by career acquisition professionals.”
Neither Amazon nor Microsoft responded to a request to comment.