MA Governor-Elect Names MS Anti-ODF Lobbyist to Technology Advisory Group

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.

For further blog entries on ODF, click here

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Comments (7)

  1. One would hope that whenever it came to a vote, the MS employee would declare the financial interest of his employer and abstain.

    I’m not sure what Massachussetts’ policy is on participation in meetings and potential conflicts of interest is; but I suppose if minutes of meetings are published, then at least Massachussets’ voters can see how their tax dollars are planned to be spent. Conceivably the poor guy might have to leave the room whenever a subject was discussed which involved a product or service offered by his employer.

  2. A pwoerful lobbyist now has a powerful position in the new
    adminsitration. We saw this coming a while ago. This cosying up to
    Microsoft has been in the papers for a while. Patrick loves Microsoft
    and is embracing them. Gives you an idea about how he feels about the
    issues in the ODF discussion. His CIO will be approved by Microsoft and
    the bond with extra money for Microsoft products will pass and be

    People that elected Patrick want these changes. He has a mandate to make these kinds of changes.

    Life in Taxa^H^H^H^HMassachusetts  returns to normal.

    • If memory serves, I don’t think Patrick ran on a pro-MS platform.  I really don’t think it’s a fair characterization to say he has a mandate specifically about software and file format policy.  I doubt more than a small percent of the population could tell you what ODF is.

      I supported Patrick because he has real potential as a leader, and had a vision on topics like Cape Wind and renewable energy in general that I agreed with. And his heavy focus on grassroots organization doesn’t really gibe with the needs and wants of a convicted monopolist.

      That said, I am somewhat worried about this appointment.

  3. It really doesn’t matter anymore (exept to the people in MA). The events in MA have made a lot of damage to Microsoft and good to ODF regardless what file format  MA will use in the future. All the press for and aginst ODF have made it clear to the rest of the world that ODF is something to count on, and most people will realize if Microsoft manages to turn the clock back to their own format, that would be a political thing. If I were Microsoft I would leave MA alone, the more press ODF gets the more chance that it will be implemented in parts of the world where Microsoft have less control over the political life. This could be far more costly to Microsoft than to just lose a few dollars in license fees from MA.

    • If I were Microsoft I would leave MA alone, the more press ODF gets the more chance that it will be implemented in parts of the world where Microsoft have less control over the political life. This could be far more costly to Microsoft than to just lose a few dollars in license fees from MA.

      ODF has gained support in other parts of the world, partially as a result of MA’ choice to adopt ODF.  If MA now decides NOT to adopt ODF, other parts of the world may continue with their plans, but the local effect is that other states in the US will not have a strong, local model on which to base their own transition.  Once one state converts over, others will follow…

      Microsoft changed the licenses of their OpenXML file formats as a direct result of MA’s decision to use open file formats.  MA is a unbelievably powerful player here.  They might be the only ones that can push Microsoft into including native ODF support in MS-Office.  I don’t live in MA, but I recognize the importance of this decision in getting ODF widespread use.

  4. This is just a transition committee now, right?  It will be interesting to see what form this committee takes in January when Patrick takes office.  At that point the Commonwealth’s conflict of Interest Law, as well as Public Records and Open Meeting laws would apply.

    • I believe – but don’t rely on this – that the charter is officially through the transition phase, but that the committee, or some of its members, could continue to advise in some fashion.  Recall, though, that there already is a state committee that advise.son technology, which includes at least some industry representatives — appointed by the governor, by the way, I think — as well as internal government representatives.  This is the committee that Peter Quinn was accused of ignoring, and which he said he kept informed and was required to listen to, but was not required to obey or get the permission of.

      If it becomes relevent, I’ll try and find out how much of what I’ve laid out above is accurate.

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