City on a Hill or Tammany Hall?

In a recent op/ed piece on the Massachusetts legislature's attempt to strip Peter Quinn of his policy power I asked whether the State House would prove to live up to the Commonwealth's ideal of a City on a Hill, or down to Tammany Hall. An article in today's Globe suggests the wrong answer.

Recently I contributed an op/ed piece to Mass High Tech, a regional technology business magazine, called “State House: City on a Hill or Tammany Hall?” The subject was the amendment introduced into the Massachusetts Senate that would, if passed, deprive Peter Quinn’s Information Technology Department (ITD) of its ability to set prudent technology rules for the Executive Agencies of the Commonwealth. I also blogged on this a number of times, most pointedly in a piece called A Nasty Little Turf Battle (Massachusetts Style).


In the op/ed piece, I began as follows:

There is a drama unfolding today that uniquely demonstrates the best and worst that Massachusetts has to offer. On the one hand, it evokes our historical leadership in society and technology. But on the other, it lays bare Beacon Hill’s penchant for self-interested political bickering at the expense of the common good.

After describing how the ITD reached it’s decision, I noted:



Praise for its action has come from places throughout the country, where several states are contemplating adoption of ODF, and from around the world, where other governments are on a similar track.




That’s Massachusetts at its best, providing a shining example to the nation and the world.

After desribing the “nasty little turf battle,” I concluded as follows:



What happens next will be watched closely around the world. Already, many of the largest technology companies are moving to support ODF, sparked first by the ITD’s decision to adopt the ODF standard, and then energized by the political challenges to the ITD’s ODF decision.




So here we stand on the verge of two possibilities. The first is that we will once again shine a beacon to the world, demonstrating our technical leadership at home and abroad. The second is that the legislature will kill the ODF policy, thereby demonstrating instead not our leadership, but our well-deserved reputation for political infighting at the expense of our citizens.


Which shall it be?

Well, if the world is in fact watching what’s going on in Boston, the light is not only out, but today it’s been tossed into the gutter. After going after Peter Quinn’s authority, it now appears that someone may be after his good name as well.


Here’s a story by staff writer Stephen Kurkjian that appeared in today’s Boston Globe :

Romney administration reviewing trips made by technology chief


The Romney administration has launched a review of several out-of-state trips that its top technology officer took to conferences sponsored in part by companies who stand to benefit from a change in computer software used by the state.


Peter J. Quinn, director of the state’s Informational Technology Division and its chief information officer, has traveled to 12 out-of-state conferences in the last two years, visiting Brazil, Ottawa, San Francisco, Japan, Puerto Rico, and other locations, records show. Most of the conferences were sponsored by technology and information companies.


Romney administration officials are investigating whether Quinn violated travel procedures by not obtaining written authorization for six of the trips — to Brazil, Ottawa, San Francisco, and other cities — since September 2004. For six other trips, he received written approval from his supervisor.

The article goes on to note that Quinn went through proper procedures for all trips in 2004, but that in 2005, his superior, Eric Kriss had given him verbal approval. Some expenses he paid himself, most were paid for by sponsors. Quinn also consulted ITD counsel regarding what approval procedures would be required.


The Globe interviewed Quinn in connection with the article, and notes in part:

There has been a great deal of interest, both in the government sector and the private sector, in the adoption of Open Standards by Massachusetts,” Quinn said in an e-mail. ”The interest is focused on the why we adopted standards and what we learned throughout our journey. As a result, I have found myself in demand as a conference speaker. Each interaction is an opportunity for me to continue my learning.

So there we have it. The CIO of Massachusetts is invited to speak all over the world about the leadership that the Commonwealth is demonstrating, and now he is being investigated to see whether he may have failed to dot his i’s and cross his t’s on his expense reports.


I’m not suggesting, of course, that conflict of interest rules are not serious and necessary – they are both. However, Quinn is being faulted for not disclosing the identity of those who sponsored his trips, and the nature of any business dealings the ITD might have them. And speakers are invited, and their fees are paid, by conference organizers, and not individual sponsors, a distinction that the Globe fails to make:

Even though a galaxy of computer companies are listed as sponsors of many of the conferences, Quinn did not list any of them on his authorization forms or the business relationships any of them have with the Commonwealth.

One wonders whether anyone would have been better off if Quinn had stapled a page of logos to an authorization form and added “We buy some or all of our products from these companies.” The article also notes that Quinn told them that he frequently took night flights to lessen time away from the job – hardly the way to take a junket.


The big question, of course, is whether the Globe thought to look into Quinn’s travel vouchers on its own, or whether it was suggested to them that they just might want to start asking questions on such an unlikely topic. If the latter, we know the answer to my rhetorical question: Massachusetts politics would rather roll around in the gutter, than shine a beacon to the world from Beacon Hill.


subscribe to the free Consortium Standards Bulletin