Google is creating a division to help win more federal and state government contracts, including work for the Defense Department’s battle networks, company officials announced Tuesday.
The Google Public Sector division will help add employees and facilities with the security clearances necessary to bid on Pentagon work, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian told Defense One.
“By bringing this into a separate division it allows us to bring more resources to support missions and programs more effectively today,” Kurian said. “For example, if you want to serve…certain kinds of programs, you need employees with clearances that operate in a secure facility. Those are things we do have but this allows us to scale up much more quickly and also brings focus in a specific unit that can do that and help the government with them.”
In particular, the division will take aim at contracts for the Pentagon’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, or JWCC, –a multi-cloud plan that uses AWS and Microsoft’s Azure as well as smaller providers. The JWCC emerged as the replacement for the canceled JEDI program, which sought to move the Defense Department away from a constellation of small cloud providers and closed networks.
JEDI was scrapped last July after a long legal battle. Google had been an early contender, thanks to the size and relative sophistication of its enterprise cloud offerings. Google dropped out of the competition when its involvement in the Pentagon’s AI pathfinder project, Project Maven, was disclosed, causing a backlash and resignations among some Google engineers.
Following that controversy, Google drafted a list of AI ethical principles to reassure its workforce and others that while it was interested in working with the Pentagon it would not pursue AI for combat situations.
But now that the Defense Department has spun off Project Maven, adopted its own AI ethical principles list and has stood up a new office to handle issues related to AI, including in combat, Google will bid to work on JWCC and other parts of the military’s battlefield networks.
“We have a greater commitment to supporting actual mission work,” said Kurian. “We wouldn’t be working on a program like JWCC purely to do back-office work.”
The new division will allow Google to develop a strategy for mergers and acquisitions, security standards and certification, capital allocation, etc., that is distinct from the rest of the company, according to a Google insider who asked not to be named. This underlines that as eager as the government is to harness commercial cloud technology, they’re still a highly demanding customer. The effort to meet those demands have forced many tech companies to focus on those concerns at the expense of other businesses or develop new spin-offs just for government.
A Google spokesperson said the company’s AI principles list “apply to custom AI work, not general use of Google Cloud services…It means that our technology can be used fairly broadly by the military.”
The first Google official said that the division would start up with around 500 people—far fewer than the public-sector divisions of AWS and Microsoft.
The official said that while Microsoft’s government outreach operation was more developed, and that AWS pricing for enterprise cloud services was unmatched, Google still has some unique things to offer government and military clients. Those include Google Workspace, already used by some portions of the Defense Department such as the Defense Innovation Unit and the Defense Innovation Board. Also, while Google has yet to achieve the same federal cybersecurity credentials as AWS, the company played a leading role in the development of zero trust security frameworks, which the Defense Department is moving toward.