More News On Monday’s ODF Hearing

An article by the Globe's Hiawatha Bray gets many details wrong, but provides the last warmup for Monday's ODF hearing.

An article by Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe may provide an idea where discussion may focus at Monday’s ODF hearing in Boston.


Bray’s article primarily addresses the inferior level of accommodation that ODF, in comparison to Microsoft Office, provides to blind users (Bray spoke to Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science in connection with the article). It is not disputed that Office is superior in this regard.


Bray also quotes from an email message from Alan Yates, general manager of the Microsoft Office business unit, as follows:

We’re encouraged by the additional and thorough review that the Legislature is pursuing to better understand the costs and issues associated with the existing Massachusetts proposal.

Bray goes on to summarize what he has learned from other sources:



Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who oversees the state’s public documents, also opposes the new storage standards, although his office has not explained why. [State Senator and Post Audit and Oversight Committee Chair] Pacheco wants to know whether Quinn has the authority to make a major change in the state’s records management policies without input from Galvin. He also wants proof that the benefits of the change would outweigh the cost of switching over.

None of these issues is new, and each has already been addressed by Commonwealth CIO Peter Quinn, so it’s possible to outline what his responses will be. That being the case, let’s contrast what Bray covered with what we already know:





First, regarding the disability issue:




As I reported in the lengthy article I presented in September on OpenDocument, of the total of 157 public comments received by the Information Technology Division (ITD), 97 are best classified as endorsements of the proposed amendments, and 46 submissions are best classified as critical (13 are difficult to classify). Of the critical comments, seven are submissions by Massachusetts public officials, and six are brief, identical form letters. The great majority of the remaining negative submissions were sent by individuals that are blind, or by representatives of three organizations concerned with those with disabilities. It’s also worth noting that some who attended the public hearing held on August 16, where the disability issue was brought up, felt that the ITD was behind the curve on the issue. In fact, the FAQ posted at the ITD Website on September 25 admits as much. The sole FAQ question on the topic addresses the accessibility as follows:




1. QUESTION: Aren’t the products that support Open Document Format inaccessible to persons with disabilities?




ANSWER: ITD thanks the advocates within the community of persons with disabilities who brought this issue to our attention. ITD is aware that there are some accessibility issues related to use of office applications that support the Open Document Format. ITD is working with the community of persons with disabilities and programmers within and associated with that community to address this issue. Under Final ETRM Version 3.5, agencies can retain copies of MS Office as needed for disabled employees and other citizens. The legal rights of employees and other citizens with disabilities will take precedence over any particular implementation of the Revised Final ETRM V. 3.5.

Admittedly, it should not have taken those with disabilities to bring such an issue to the attention of a government employer.


So this issue is not new, and the germane questions will be whether the accommodation referred to in the FAQ should be an adequate plan. Superficially, it sounds workable, if klugey, in contrast to the stated goals of the policy.


The second issue has to do with whether Commonwealth CIO Quinn had the authority to adopt the policy. This again is old news, and was raised in a number of the comment letters received (see my article again for a detailed review of who raised which points). It was also addressed in great detail in the FAQ, and Quinn answered conclusively during my interview with him in preparation for the article that the legal issues had been thoroughly investigated by a staff attorney. The issues are too technical to go into in detail here, but are clearly laid out in the FAQ.


Which leaves only the comment from Alan Yates to address, which shows no new cards. If you were to track all of his prior public comments, they would read almost word for word (and perhaps word for word) the same.


So it would appear that the attack on Monday will focus on three topics: accessibility to the disabled; legality of process; and cost. I plan on attending the hearing on Monday and will report in detail what transpires.


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