Google has said it can still fight for Pentagon contracts without violating federal employees’ free speech and privacy rights.
Google confirmed to The Washington Post that it has drafted a model contract to be used by Pentagon contractors and is pitching the proposal to the Defense Department. The document is based on a contract Google has awarded more than 50 times to help a subsidiary of Taiwan to run a wireless network.
By portraying itself as a neutral party responsible for ensuring all aspects of the program are compliant with the law, the contract reflects Google’s desire to transcend the controversy surrounding its lobbying efforts.
“Google will ensure that any information provided to the provider of the solution complies with applicable government regulations and practices,” reads a document provided to The Post by a Defense Department official.
Tensions grew last fall when a Pentagon memo invited contractors to join an effort to build communications networks in public spaces around the world. A Pentagon official told Bloomberg that the goal was to develop secure, private networks that would replace “failing” U.S. government-developed networks currently in place in American cities.
The memo sparked protests and a backlash from privacy advocates, who cited a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that showed Google lobbyists at the highest levels of the federal government had reached out to members of Congress about the move.
Beth Cobert, the White House Office of Management and Budget chief, told a House committee last fall that she was unaware that Google lobbied specifically to win Pentagon contracts. Citing the need to meet the demands of an aggressive communications industry, Cobert said that the government can be “moving very quickly.”
Google declined to comment on the remarks, or whether they meant the company would not lobby for contracts.
“It’s reasonable to assume that our discussions with the Defense Department were focused on a combination of the kinds of work we’ve done previously, and how we might support their efforts in meeting government policy goals,” Google spokesman Chris Gaither said.
The White House has faced questions from Democrats, privacy advocates and Republican allies over whether the Trump administration is enabling censorship by inserting the administration in negotiations and oversight over major tech companies, including Google, Twitter and Facebook.
The memo instructs contractors to go through a federal procurement process and make their work transparent to the public. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has pledged to open up discussions with the public and Congress, but has publicly called on contractors to cooperate.
The memo also tries to sidestep the antitrust issue in which Google faces pressure from antitrust officials in the United States and Europe.