Google sues agency over Microsoft-only cloud deal

Google and a reseller of its products have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior after the agency solicited bids for cloud-based e-mail and messaging services specifying that bidders must use Microsoft products.

Google and Ohio-based reseller Onix Networking filed the lawsuit against the Interior Department on Friday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The contract, for up to $59.3 million over five years, tells bidders they must deploy Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite-Federal (BPOS) package to deliver the services.

The Microsoft requirement is "unduly restrictive of competition" and violates federal contracting law, Google and Onix said in their complaint. The DOI, despite promising to look at alternatives to the Microsoft package, issued an Aug. 30 request for bids constituting "a sole-source procurement that is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise contrary to law," the complaint said.

Google employees met with DOI officials to talk about their competing Google Apps product in mid-2009, the complaint said. In April of this year, two DOI officials told Google that its products did not meet the security requirements of the agency. The two agency officials declined to talk about the DOI's security requirements or review the security of Google's products, the complaint said.

The DOI's requirements for the contract specify that the products used must comply with security requirements in the U.S. Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the Google/Onix complaint said. Microsoft's BPOS-Federal product is not yet FISMA-certified, while Google's Apps for Government is, the complaint added.

Microsoft announced the BPOS-Federal product in February. The company said it planned to have FISMA certification by the end of this year.

The DOI determined that Microsoft's suite was the "only commercial product that satisfies every requirement" identified by the agency, the DOI said in its justification for a so-called limited source contract. "Based on ... extensive market research, the department determined that although many companies can provide messaging services in general, they either cannot provide services that address the complexity of messaging requirements within DOI, or they could not meet the degree of security required by DOI," the agency said in documents defending the selection of Microsoft products.

BPOS-Federal is a new product with no publicly identified customers and no case studies from federal government users, Google's complaint said. Microsoft's BPOS-Standard product had service outages in August and September, the complaint added.

The DOI's public affairs office did not immediately respond to a request for comments about the lawsuit.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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