A Nasty Little Turf Battle (Massachusetts Style)

ODF today became just a political football on Beacon Hill. The original amendment intended to strip Peter Quinn and the ITD of IT policy power has now turned into an amendment to give the Secretary of the Commonwealth IT control of every agency, department -- and municipality -- in Massachusetts.

Two days ago, in a post called ODF Update: What Will Happen Next on Beacon Hill and When I reported that it looked like the Massachusetts legislature would adjourn without adopting a bill that would enable the enemies of ODF to block its implementation in Massachusetts.


The good news is that I was right. The bad news is that everything else decided on Beacon Hill today is bad news. Even the good news may not amount to much, on which more below.


But first, let’s review how we got to where we are today:


Once upon a time, Peter Quinn, the CIO of Massachusetts, tried to do something brave, important, and perhaps a bit naive: to do the best thing for the future of the Commonwealth, even if it meant thinking outside the box and taking actions that were sure to draw an immune response from various powerful corners.


All went reasonably well for a while, but when it came time for his plans to actually begin to be implemented, the reflexive reaction did indeed kick in, and it kicked in hard. Not only did it come from the expected sources, but also from inside the government itself.


At first, the opposition from inside the government was styled as being about principle: whether Quinn’s Information Technology Division (ITD) had gone through proper channels to promulgate the rules that it wished to implement. But today, any pretense of principle appears to have pretty much been abandoned, as the debate over an amendment to emasculate the ITD’s power to set prudent rules for the Commonwealth’s IT infrastructure degenerated into what looks like nothing more than a nasty little turf battle, Massachusetts style.


As I reported here on November 2 in a post called The Fix is in on ODF, various forces in the Massachusetts government decided to introduce an amendment to an unrelated piece of legislation that was conveniently close to adoption — an economic stimulus bill called S 2256, which had already made its way through the House. The amendment was intended to remove essentially all IT policy power from those that are in a position to recommend it best — the Commonwealth’s own technology agency — and convey it to a “task force” of political appointees.


One of the known (but largely silent) enemies of the ODF proposal is Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin, a very powerful person in the Massachusetts government, and a possible candidate for governor in the next election. One of the departments of government that answers to the Secretary maintains the state archives, and the ODF policy obviously has some relevance to the archives. Making rules that affected the archive without gaining the Secretary’s approval did not go unnoticed, or unappreciated (in the negative sense).


That brings us up to today, when a new amendment was introduced by Senator Michael W. Morrissey in lieu of the amendment he had earlier submitted. I am told by what I believe to be a reliable source that the swap was at the suggestion of Secretary Galvin, because the first version was “slanted too heavily in favor of the Governor.” And the new amendment? It shifts power dramatically, and I bet you can guess in whose direction it shifts.


Here’s a summary of what the new amendment would do in contrast to the original:

1) Reduces the number of appointees given to the Governor from 4 to 2


2) Designates the CIO of ITD as a permanent appointee to the Task Force


3) Eliminates the appointees by the State Treasurer and State Auditor


4) Mandates that the Supervisor of Public Records (who reports to the Secretary of State) serve as Chair of the Task Force; previous version had the Chair elected by the appointees


5) Mandates that the State Archivist (also reports to the Secretary of State) serve as Secretary of the Task Force


6) Emphasizes that no agency, department or municipality shall adopt technology policy, practices or standards without a majority vote of the Task Force; previous version listed only executive branch agencies or departments as subject to the decisions of the Task Force [You can find the full text of the new amendment at the end of this post]


As you can see, with the exception of making the state CIO a permanent member of a 7-person task force, all other changes solidly increase the power of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and even expand the power of the task force beyond that originally contemplated by the ITD’s proposal.


In fact, the new amendment enables exactly the type of situation that the anti-ODF FUDists had claimed Quinn was out to require, but in fact was not: requiring that citizens of the Commonwealth could only interreleat with their own government if they owned software that supported a standard mandated by public officials. Quinn never sought out to do that. If the amendment becomes law, Galvin could. Would that format be an open format, such as ODF, or a closed format, such as the one that barred victims from accessing crucial government sites in the wake of Katrina?


You may recall that at the beginning of this entry, I said that the legislature had adjourned, as previously planned, for the rest of the year. I’ve mentioned before that a breathing spell would allow extra information to enter the marketplace to beat back FUD, and perhaps enable a more responsible decision to be made by the legislature in the New Year.


Unfortunately, even that may not be in the wings, since I’ve also learned that there is some potential that the legislature may elect to reconvene in December to attend to unfinished business (I understand that it has not yet been decided, but may be determined on Thursday). Thus, the stimulus bill, including this more far-reaching amendment, could yet become law this year.


But it seems to me that timing has become a moot issue, since clearly larger forces are now at work: IT policy has been identified as a politically valuable property, and that property is now in play. We’re not talking about just ODF anymore, but political influence. ODF was just the feature that brought the power into focus, and put control of that power into contention. If it was Microsoft that first shone the spotlight on ODF, perhaps even that powerful company has now been relegated to spectator status while those in power in the Commonwealth duke it out.


Will anyone push back on the new proposal? Most logically, what of Governor Mitt Romney, at whose expense Secretary Galvin would augment his own power? Maybe not. There are many that think that Romney is vying to be the Republican candidate for President in 2008, which would mean that what goes on on Beacon Hill may be less important than how he plays his cards in a game with higher stakes. Here’s what he had to say about ODF in a CRN story by Paula Rooney released just today at 11:43 AM, and (tellingly) titled, ” Mass. Gov Backs OpenDoc Policy But Distances Himself From Decision:”

Romney praised [the ODF proposal] as a good policy that is essential to ensuring citizens have free access to government documents in the future, but he distanced himself from the policy’s genesis. He gave credit for the idea to Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn and the Secretary of Administration and Finance.


“My CIO said the problem is we have a proprietary software storing all documents and down the road people might have to pay. Our state decided on OpenDoc in the future, but we’re giving it time to be implemented … it didn’t come from me, but from our technology people who came to me. Clearly Microsoft, IBM and Sun can format their technology [with OpenDoc],” the governor said. “Mine is a visionary job, but more often [the technology staff] come up with the idea.”

So it looks to me like the Governor may have decided that he has more to risk than to gain by fighting this battle.


Which leaves ODF adrift. Where? Sadly, in the middle of a nasty little Massachusetts-style turf battle.


That’s really too bad. Because once upon a time, Peter Quinn, the CIO of Massachusetts,…


* * * * * * *




Mr. Morrissey moves to amend the amendment, Floor Number 185, by striking the amendment out in its entirety, and inserting in place there of the following:–


Mr. Morrissey moves to amend the bill, Senate Bill No. 2256 by striking out Section 4 in its entirety, and inserting in place thereof the following:–


SECTION 4. Said chapter 7 is 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 the Chief Information Officer of the Information Technology Division, the Supervisor of Records, the State Archivist, 2 members to be appointed by the governor (1 shall be a representative of the business community with experience in the telecommunications industry, and 1 shall be a representative of the business community with experience in information technology), the State Treasurer or his designee, the Secretary of State or his designee, and the State Auditor or his designee. Citizen members of the task force shall be appointed for terms of 3 years or until a successor is appointed. Citizen members shall be eligible to be reappointed and shall serve without compensation. The Supervisor of Records shall act as the Chair of the Task Force. The State Archivist shall act as the task force secretary.


(b) The task force shall make recommendations concerning government information technology policy and practices. The task force shall issue an annual report to the governor, the general court, each constitutional officer and to the chief information officers of each city and town if requested 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.


No agency, department or municipality shall not adopt or implement any technology 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 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.


subscribe to the free Consortium Standards Bulletin