As a matter of contracts, Jeff Bezos has been getting increasingly sidelined by the United States government that the Senate is considering giving him special treatment through legislative amendment.
Recently, Blue Origin, Bezos’ space company, lost a multibillion NASA contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, heightening Washington-based contract losses that started with former US president Donald Trump. Now Congress is on the move to create a contract for Bezos, ordering NASA to make two awards.
The order would be issued under the Endless Frontier Act, a plan to increase funding for science and technology research that is now being debated on the Senate floor.
Blue Origin is based in Washington, the home state of Sen. Maria Cantwell, who is pushing under the Amendment, for $10 billion to be given to NASA, who will in turn, award it to Blue Origin as contract.
The latest blow to Bezos’ quest for a federal contract came following a competition against SpaceX for a contract to put astronauts on the moon, the first such trips since 1972. NASA awarded the contract to Elon Musk-owned SpaceX last month.
Blue Origin lost out after spending $625,000 lobbying the Senate in the first quarter of the year, according to lobbying disclosure records.
Blue Origin and Dynetics, another company that also made a bid for the contract, filed protests with the Government Accountability Office, after it was awarded to SpaceX. Since the protests are still open, Congress seems to want to bypass the watchdog with a multibillion dollar handout to NASA to award more contracts.
This move by the Senate to create contracts for Blue Origin appears like appeasement for perceived squabble between Washington and Jeff Bezos. But it faces an obstacle.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, introduced a last-minute amendment Monday to eliminate the $10 billion. “It does not make a lot of sense to me that we would provide billions of dollars to a company owned by the wealthiest guy in America,” Sanders told The Intercept Tuesday.
In 2019, Bezos-owned Amazon filed a suit challenging Pentagon’s process for awarding $10 billion cloud computing contract to Microsoft. The process was being investigated by a market watchdog to ascertain if Trump and Bezos’ rift in any way got in the way of the process. Although the Pentagon denied any wrongdoing, the animosity between the president and the Amazon founder could not be ignored.
Cantwell introduced an amendment to the Endless Frontier Act to end what appears like injustice to other players in the US tech space, when it comes to government contracts.
Cantwell told NASA’s incoming administrator, former Sen. Bill Nelson, that she was surprised at the way the award unfolded, before introducing the legislation to add a new one.
“I think there needs to be redundancy,” or multiple contractors in case one fails, she told Nelson at his confirmation hearing. “And it has to be clear this process can’t be redundancy later. It has to be redundancy now.”
The Intercept said in its report that Cantwell’s measure wouldn’t rescind the grant to SpaceX but would create an additional contract that Bezos’ company would be in line to win.
The measure, which also seems like an attempt by Cantwell to get her state a federal tech contract, has been attached to the Endless Frontier Act as part of a manager’s amendment and authorizes $10.032 billion through the year 2026 for the moon program.
There has been broad bipartisan support for the bill in the Senate, indicating that it will be passed soon. The Intercept reported a procedural vote last week passed by a 71-27 margin, and that Senate Democratic leaders are eyeing a Thursday vote for final passage, after which it would need to move through the House of Representatives.