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Saturday, October 25 2014 @ 06:19 AM CDT

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The Fix is in on ODF

OpenDocument and OOXMLIf you've been wondering when the axe would fall on the Massachusetts effort to adopt ODF - now we know. And it's a big -- and potentially lethal -- one.I just received a call telling me about a significant event relating to the Massachusetts ODF saga. After a month of news largely dominated by pro-ODF announcements, such as the release of ODF-compliant office suites, patent non-assertion pledges and the like, the opposition has just lowered the boom. And if they are successful, it's a big one.

According to what I've just learned, an amendment to a piece of important Massachusetts legislation was passed out of the Senate Ways & Means committee this afternoon the [update: the amendment would be a new Section 4 to S2256 - an economic stimulus bill]. If it is adopted, it could at minimum drastically delay the effectiveness date of the ODF policy, and at worst, could roll back the Information and Technology Division's (ITD) action entirely.

I can't confirm at this time the identity of the amendment's proponents, but I am told that the amendment will be debated in the State Senate on Thursday, so those who are behind the amendment will become visible at that point.

The gist of the amendment would be to create a new four-person "task force" that would have the power to approve or block a wide variety of IT policy decisions in the Commonwealth - and many provisions of the amendment map specifically to the ODF situation.

What's the motivation? The most obvious conclusion would be that the industry opponents (or opponent, as the case may be) have allied with those in the state government that are already publicly angry about the ITD's position that it can adopt a policy without the approval of other power centers in the State House (or at least that it can adopt a standard without "collaborating" with other powerful factions, the word repeatedly used by Senator Pacheco during the October 31 hearing). The amendment also picks up on the ITD's apparent failure to properly take into account the concerns of the disabled prior to advancing its policy to the point of adoption.

I've appended the full version of the amendment at the end of this blog entry, but in order to make the potential impact of the amendment -- and its attempt to blanket the ODF decision - clearer, I'll also include the relevant portions now, putting those in bold and italics that are generally and precisely targeted at ODF:

SECTION 4....(a) There shall be a commonwealth information technology expert task force, hereinafter referred to as the task force, consisting of 4 members to be appointed by the governor, 1 member to be appointed by the treasurer, 1 member to be appointed by the state secretary, and 1 member to be appointed by the auditor. Of the members appointed by the governor, at least 1 shall be a representative of the business community with experience in the telecommunications industry, and at least 1 shall be a representative of the business community with experience in information technology...(b) The task force shall make recommendations concerning government information technology policy and practices... * An executive agency or department shall not adopt or implement a policy, practice or standard concerning information technology standards or systems or the procurement or use of hardware, software , and cellular phones and other electronic devices, without the affirmative approval of the task force by majority vote. Any executive agency or department policy, practice or standard concerning the creation, storage or archiving of documents or materials shall also be approved by the supervisor of public records and the records conservation board, and shall be certified by the state auditor as maintaining or enhancing the commonwealth's compliance with Section 508 of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973

So there you have it - an amendment that's precisely targeted at achieving all of the ends that were outlined in the October 31 hearing: take the power to set standards away from the ITD, and hand it to a new uber group, as well as giving the supervisor of public records a veto as well.

But the amendment also takes another step that is rather Machiavellian. Recall that the original sin of the ITD was, in the view of the ITD's Statehouse opponents, to have failed to consult with the other branches of the government. One of the parts that I ellipsed out solves that problem by making the only safe way that the ITD can ensure success in a standards decision is to involve the task force early in the process, by giving the CIO the right to "request" the recommendation of the task force. That section reads in part as follows (once again I've added emphasis where appropriate):

The chief information officer of the information technology division may request the task force to provide recommendations or analysis on specific matters.... The task force recommendations shall address, but not be limited to, the following matters: (1) procurement policies by commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities concerning computer hardware and software..., (2) format and content of web pages maintained by commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities; and (3) software standards governing commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities. In offering recommendations, the task force's analysis shall include, but not be limited to, the following considerations:...(3) the extent to which the proposed policy or practice results in user-friendly applications for commonwealth employees, business entities, and members of the public;...

It might not be a stretch to say that this part of the amendment is intended not only to change the IT power structure, but to humiliate the ITD at the same time, by making it ask first what it can recommend before it makes a recommendation itself.

So that's where things lie for now. The opposition has obviously been doing their homework well behind the scenes, and the game is now out in the open and afoot.

It will be an interesting and important debate on Thursday. Stay tuned, and if you're from Massachusetts, you might want to call or email your senator to let him or her know what you think.

Here's the full text of the proposed amendment:

SECTION 4. Said chapter 7is hereby further amended by adding the following section:- Section 57. (a) There shall be a commonwealth information technology expert task force, hereinafter referred to as the task force, consisting of 4 members to be appointed by the governor, 1 member to be appointed by the treasurer, 1 member to be appointed by the state secretary, and 1 member to be appointed by the auditor. Of the members appointed by the governor, at least 1 shall be a representative of the business community with experience in the telecommunications industry, and at least 1 shall be a representative of the business community with experience in information technology. Members of the task force shall be appointed for terms of 3 years or until a successor is appointed. Members shall be eligible to be reappointed and shall serve without compensation. A chairperson of the task force shall be elected annually from the membership. An employee of the commonwealth shall not be a member of the task force. (b) The task force shall make recommendations concerning government information technology policy and practices. The chief information officer of the information technology division may request the task force to provide recommendations or analysis on specific matters. The task force shall issue annual reports to the governor, the general court, and the information technology advisory council established by section 390 of chapter 149 of the acts of 2004, and may issue additional reports from time to time. The task force recommendations shall address, but not be limited to, the following matters: (1) procurement policies by commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities concerning computer hardware and software, cellular telephones, personal data accessories, and other information technology devices; (2) format and content of web pages maintained by commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities; and (3) software standards governing commonwealth agencies, constitutional offices, and other government entities. In offering recommendations, the task force's analysis shall include, but not be limited to, the following considerations: (1) cost-benefit analysis of proposed policies or practices; (2) security of proposed policies or practices from viruses, hacking, and other breaches; (3) the extent to which the proposed policy or practice results in user-friendly applications for commonwealth employees, business entities, and members of the public; and (4) proposals and options to facilitate more efficient transactions between commonwealth entities and the public, including on-line transactions. * An executive agency or department shall not adopt or implement a policy, practice or standard concerning information technology standards or systems or the procurement or use of hardware, software, and cellular phones and other electronic devices, without the affirmative approval of the task force by majority vote. Any executive agency or department policy, practice or standard concerning the creation, storage or archiving of documents or materials shall also be approved by the supervisor of public records and the records conservation board, and shall be certified by the state auditor as maintaining or enhancing the commonwealth's compliance with Section 508 of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973.

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