Google Sues U.S. Interior Department over Microsoft Contract Bid

Google has filed a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging the Department of Interior is unfairly restricting competition for a cloud-hosting contract.

Google is suing the federal government, alleging that the Department of the Interior unfairly restricted the search engine giant's ability to bid for a contract to update its e-mail and messaging system. Microsoft's BPOS-Federal suite eventually won the contract, estimated at $59 million over a five-year life cycle.

Google filed the lawsuit along with Onix Networking, a licensed reseller of Google products and solutions, asking that the DOI be prohibited from proceeding with any bidding or activity that "furthers or facilities the implementation Microsoft BPOS-Federal solution at DOI" without "first complying with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, including but not limited to conducting a competitive procurement in accordance with applicable law and regulations."

A Microsoft spokesperson told eWEEK Nov. 1 that the company had no comment on the lawsuit.

Google had begun discussions to host the DOI's e-mail and collaboration system in June 2009, according to the lawsuit. "Before DOI issued the RFQ (Request for Quotation), Google representatives made numerous attempts to engage DOI in substantive discussions regarding the technical and cost-savings benefits of the Google Apps solution for DOI's messaging requirements," reads the Factual Background section of the lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 29.

The agency utilizes Microsoft technology, but Google representatives were nonetheless assured that the "DOI would conduct a full and open competition for its messaging requirements."

In the lawsuit, Google claims it argued that all the DOI's needs "could be met with its Google Apps product," and that it pressed for a series of meetings to demonstrate how the platform could fulfill those needs. However, it insists, two federal executives eventually "informed Google that a 'path forward had already been chosen' for the DOI Messaging solution" and that "there would be no opportunity for Google to compete because its product was not compliant with DOI's security requirements."

Google then apparently sought further meetings to press its argument, with relatively little progress. Rumors also began to circulate that another company had already secured the contract with the DOI-which led to a series of communications where federal officials, allegedly, assured Google that the contract was still very much up for grabs.

However, the rumors continued: "Google had heard that DOI might soon issue to a competitor (meaning Microsoft) a FISMA certification and accreditation for the competitor's cloud-computing messaging system, even though DOI had repeatedly refused to review Google's FISMA certification package." Google soon had in its possession an alleged screenshot, indicating that "a 'pilot' project to migrate 5,000 DOI users to the Microsoft platform had been underway for months."

Federal officials apparently declined to respond to Google's Aug. 11 e-mail, which included that screenshot. Sometime after that, Microsoft BPOS-Federal solution was named the "DOI's product selection of choice."

Google argues in the lawsuit that Microsoft's BPOS-Federal solution is "a new product" that "has not been certified according to FISMA standards by any government agency at any risk level." Furthermore, Google claims Microsoft "topped a list of 12 major software providers for the number of security vulnerabilities and software patches needed to plug security holes."

On top of that, Google argues, BPOS-Standard has experienced outages of sufficient magnitude to "cast doubt on whether the BPOS-Federal solution will satisfy all of DOI's requirements." The DOI's decision to utilize BPOS as a platform, it argues, unfairly restricts competition.

The lawsuit will mark the latest twist in the long-running competition between Google and Microsoft for government cloud contracts. In October, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a partnership that would give approximately 100,000 municipal employees access to cloud-based Microsoft applications, with 30,000 of them relying on BPOS. That deal is expected to save the city some $50 million over the next five years.

That New York City contract seemed a tit-for-tat response to Google's locking up an agreement with the city of Los Angeles to provide cloud-based applications to 30,000 employees.

Both companies are also aggressively moving to promote their cloud offerings to the federal government.