In a case of strange political timing, governor-elect Deval Patrick announced 15 transition team working groups the day before Thanksgiving, while most people were leaving their offices and homes early for the holiday. In that announcement, Patrick named 200 people to a wide variety of advisory groups covering topics as diverse as healthcare and civic engagement. One of these committees is intended to advise the governor on the technology needs of the state government.
Most of the eight people on that group were not a surprise. They include:
- Co-Chair, Charles SteelFisher, New Media Director of the Deval Patrick Committee
- Co-Chair, Richard Rowe, CEO of Rowe Communications, and with many credentials in education, government and technology
- John Cullinane, Principal, The Cullinane Group, the founder of early software success story Cullinet Software, Inc., and a long-time New England technology leader
- Louis Gutierrez, the outgoing State CIO and Director of the Information Technology Division (ITD), and now with government IT consulting firm the Exeter Group
- Keith Parent, CEO of Court Square Data Group, a western Massachusetts-based IT services provider with a number of government customers. (Parent's appointment helps fulfill Patrick's campaign promise to provide regional representation in his administration)
- David Lewis, a consultant and the Massachusetts CIO prior to Peter Quinn
- Larry Weber, currently Chairman of PR services firm W2 Group, and another local high tech legend as the founder of the Weber Group, which became the largest technology-focused PR firm prior to being acquired by the Inter Public Group in 1996.
Oh yes. And one person from a major, out of state software company. Say what?
That person is Brian Burke, the Microsoft Regional Director for Public Affairs, and if that surprises you, it surprises me as well, given the degree of acrimonious debate and disinformation witnessed in Massachusetts over the last 15 months involving the Information Technology Division's transition to ODF.
What does that bode for the future of ODF in Massachusetts? On the one hand, it turns out that both Deval Patrick and Brian Burke were part of the Clinton administration, and their acquaintance presumably stems from that time period rather from than a recent introduction. On the other hand, it is my understanding that it was Burke who led the lobbying effort on Beacon Hill against ODF, and also urged legislators to introduce the amendment intended to take away much of the ITD's planning power generally, and as regards standards specifically, and hand it to a task force made up of political appointees.
Certainly Louis Gutierrez and Steve Lewis are both politically savvy, and more than well versed on the technology needs of state government. And one lobbyist will not be able to compel any final decision. But I am disappointed that our new governor would appoint someone to a group that will be advising him on technology decisions – including regarding ODF – that is a lobbyist for a vendor that has campaigned intensively in Massachusetts, and is now campaigning worldwide, against adoption of a standard that threatens to undermine its multi-billion franchise in office software.
A new administration needs to earn a reputation for independence from special interests, and adding a lobbyist to an advisory group is a strange way to embark upon that process, especially after Peter Quinn was pilloried in the press over unfounded questions about travel expenses. Although I'm told that Burke announced yesterday at the first meeting of the new working group that he will be participating as a private citizen rather than a Microsoft employee, I believe that Burke should recuse himself from participating in any discussions or recommendations relating to document format standards.
Good fences not only make good neighbors, but good political sense as well. Deval Patrick should ask Burke to stay outside of one that should be built around ODF.
The full list of all 200 appointees may be found here. The new working groups are to submit their reports to Patrick by December 15. In April of this year, CIO Magazine reviewed amounts spent on lobbyists by Microsoft, IBM and Sun, and contributions by those lobbyists, in Massachusetts. That article may be found here.
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