Pacheco Committee issues Highly Critical Report on Mass. ITD Adoption of ODF

[Updated:  10:30 ET to add quotes from Globe article]

Those that do not closely follow Massachusetts politics closely (a dismal pastime at best) may remember that State Senator Marc Pacheco, the Chair of the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee, held a public hearing last October 31.  At that hearing, he called upon then State CIO Peter Quinn, and Linda Hamel, the General Counsel of  the State's Information Technology Division (ITD) to testify.  During and after their testimony, he was highly critical with respect to the adoption by the ITD of a new Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM), and in particular of the requirement under the ETRM that the Executive Agencies use only ODF-compliant office productivity software after January 1, 2007.  He also called a number of witnesses to address the Committee that were uniformly hostile to the new policy (rejecting the offers of supporters to testify), and announced that his committee would commence an investigation into the facts underlying his concerns.

Senator Pacheco's committee has now completed it's investigation of the situation, and has issued a 31 page, small type, single-spaced  written report that is… (again) highly critical of the State's Information Technology Division (ITD) with respect to its adoption of a new Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM), and in particular of the requirement under the ETRM that the Executive Agencies use only ODF-compliant office productivity software after January 1, 2007.  On an initial scan, it is difficult to find a part of the report that is not consistent with the allegations and conclusions expressed at the hearing eight months before.  The title also suggests both the tone and the conclusions of the effort: Open Standards, Closed Government.

The report was issued at a press conference held at the state house at 2:00 PM Thursday afternoon, and is not as yet available on line.  Only a limited number of print copies were made available (to the press), but I was able to obtain an imaged copy by email late this evening.  As of this moment in time, there is only one news article available on line, which can be found here  (the article was written by Martin LaMonica, who is local and I expect attended the press conference). [The report has now been posted, and can be found at the site.

Update:  The reactions of current and former administration figures to the report are similar to my own.  The following is taken from an article by staff writer Robert Weisman in the Boston Globe of June 30:

“This process, quite frankly, was driven by one individual in a very powerful position,” Pacheco said, referring to [former Secretary of Administration and Finance Eric] Kriss. He said Kriss issued a memo to Quinn that, in effect, said “just get it done.”

Kriss, who is no longer in state government, said Pacheco’s statements were “filled with inaccurate claims, innuendoes, and unsubstantiated charges” about the process. “His charges are false and his recommendations deeply flawed,” Kriss said of the report. “I hope other, more responsible political leaders will quickly see through the political trickery that was so sadly on display today.”…

A spokesman for the Romney administration defended the process used to select the open document format and said the Information Technology Division would go forward with plans to implement it on Jan. 1.

“Senator Pacheco is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law,” said Felix Browne , a Romney spokesman. “We are committed to an open standards approach that fully takes into account all accessibility, cost, and statutory requirements.”

Although I will need much more time to a detailed analysis (which I will do, and report on in the next few days), the following are some initial observations, as well as the full text of the Final Recommendations, and other exerpts from the Executive Summary.

Formalities:  The report begins with an Executive Summary that includes a series of seven Key Findings, followed by six Key Recommendations.  The heavily footnoted full text (it includes 96 supporting research notes and citations), includes the following major topics:  Background, Cost, Accessibility, Legal Authority, and Process.  Each of these major topics (except Background) concludes with its own set of findings and recommendations.

Executive Summary:  The following are excerpts from the Summary, followed by the Recommendations in full:

The Committee found that ITD was not aware of the cost of the ETRM, the impact it could have on the state’s public records, limitations on IT accessibility for persons with disabilities, that the agency excluded key governmental advocacy groups, and that the proposal was issued in violation of state law….ITD began releasing a series of open standards policies, culminating in the ETRM, with little or no collaboration with the legislature, executive branch, constitutional officers, or advocacy groups who expressed concern with the ETRM.  The Committee made the following key findings:

1.  ITD released the ETRM despite public testimony that the OpenDocument Format (“ODF”), an ITD approved open standard, may impair IT accessibility for thousands of workers with disabilities…

2.  After seven months of negotiations, the Information Technology Division still has not completed a Memorandum of Understanding between state agencies and the Massachusetts Office on Disability to ensure accessibility of IT applications.

7.  The exclusionary development process of the ETRM was initiated and led by former Administration and Finance Secretary Eric Kriss and former ITD Director Peter Quinn.  Although significant work remains, the new ITD Director and Administration and Finance Secretary have taken measures to improve collaboration and to address the accessibility concerns of the disability community.

While the principles of open standards may offer the promise of decreased costs and greater interoperability of state documents, ITD did not pursue this policy in an open, collaborative or lawful manner.  Based on these findings, the Committee made the following recommendations:

1.  ITD should delay the ETRM implementation date of January 1, 2007 unless the agency can demonstrate that the open standards requirement meets the needs of the disability community.  A statewide government policy that is not compliant with assistive technology will contribute to the significant problem of unemployment an underemployment for persons with disabilities.

2.  ITD should act in consultation with the Massachusetts Office on Disability to ensure that IT standards comply with state and federal disability mandates.

3.  Prior to issuing IT architecture standards, ITD should submit a cost analysis of the proposal to the legislature and the Office of the Auditor of the Commonwealth.  Through the IT Bond or the operating budgets of state agencies, the legislature authorizes and appropriates funding for all government IT expenditures.

4.  ITD should comply with existing statute [sic] that requires approval by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Records Conservation Board of IT standards that affect public records.

5.  ITD and the Executive Office of Administration and Finance should issue IT architecture standards with a formal public notice and public hearing process to ensure there is an open and transparent administrative process.

6.  ITD should continue to pursue the policy of developing open standards of the executive branch in collaboration with appropriate state agencies, governmental entities, and advocates as required by state statue and principles of open government.

Analysis:  Despite the fact that the report seems to have come out exactly where it began, making one wonder how open minded a process supported its preparation, there are more than a few findings that have substance (at least in part), while others are at best opinion, and the remainder, as I understand the facts, are simply wrong.  Here is how I would sort them out:

Recommendations 1 and 2:  Accessibility

Adequacy of preparation:

Right:  In fact, the ITD was taken by surprise on this issue, and should not have been. 

Wrong:  Once the issue was brought to the ITD’s attention, Peter Quinn tackled it aggressively, and there was both receptivity to the need to make amends and strong cooperation with representatives of the community of the disable beginning just before the formal announcement of the ETRM.  In fact, some witnesses at the October 31, 2005 hearing commended the ITD for its cooperation and efforts in the two preceding months, although still expressing their concerns for the future.

MOU with Office on Disability:

Wrong:  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Pacheco report took eight months to be issued, and was not dependent on securing agreement with an independent party, nor impeded by the need to make further technical decisions before commitments could be made with assurance.  From this perspective, seven months without (yet) an MOU fails to impress as being problematic, or worthy of being a Key Finding.

Recommendation 3:  Cost analysis

Right:  The ITD did not in fact do any sort of detailed cost analysis of ODF conversion before adopting the ETRM. 

Wrong:  Such an analysis was not (as I understand it) required, and the move to transition to much greater usage of open standards was felt to be imperative for reasons other than whether or not near-term conversion costs would be immediately recoverable.  Further, it was already known that a decision to stay with Microsoft Office would involve substantial license upgrade and training costs.

Unknown:  I do not know of my own knowledge whether submitting cost analyses of IT architecture standard  issuances would be consistent with standing requirements generically, or would be an extraordinary imposition, relative to what is mandated for other types of decisions by other agencies.

Recommendation 4: Approval by Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Records Conservation Board of IT Standards

Wrong:  Linda Hamel has submitted a detailed brief explaining the ITD’s understanding of applicable law to the contrary.

Question:  Were the legal conclusions in the report prepared by knowledgeable legal counsel, or are these the conclusions of the Committee?

Recommendation 5:  Open process

Right:  The ITD did not follow any state-mandated formal notice and open meeting process to solicit comment on the ETRM.

Wrong:  The ITD was not required to hold any public meetings at all, but in fact held two open meetings, as well as other meetings, with interested parties.  The meetings were well attended and a broad range of opinions was expressed.

Recommendation 6:  Collaboration

Right:  There was an absence of effective communication between the ITD and some other agencies. 

Wrong:  It is not accurate that the failure was only in one direction, or that other agencies referred to were themselves necessarily open or cooperative.  Also, the testimony of Peter Quinn and briefs prepared and filed by Linda Hamel support the conclusion that while the ITD was required to listen to the input of certain boards, it was not required to solicit, or follow that input.

Summary:  I have not had time to read the full text of the report, so it would not be appropriate for me to go beyond what I have observed above.  I would note, however, that on a scan of the footnotes, there is a noticeable dependency on the testimony at the October 31, 2005 hearing, at which the offers and requests to testify of those that would have supported the ITD were rejected by Senator Pacheco, leaving only critics (except in the case of Quinn and Hamel) able to create a public record.  Almost all of the other interviews that are mentioned in the notes relate to state employees and representatives of the community of the disabled.  While the testimony of these individuals is certainly relevant, no references appear to the analyst reports that have recommended ODF for government use nor pointed out price advantages of doing so, or to the analysis performed by the City of Bristol, or to any resources that could have been readily provided by the ODF Alliance, which was formed for the exclusive purpose of eductating governments about the advantages (including price) of converting to ODF compliant software.

To be fair, there are ongoing references to additional and ongoing statements by Linda Hamel and the Committee.  But strangely (or perhaps not), there appears to have been almost no communication with Peter Quinn, despite the fact that he can now speak freely (and has repeatedly done so in public), now that he is no longer a state employee.

To be continued…

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Comments (2)

  1. <p>Pacheco is a publicly eleced official, and as far as I understand it, his campaign contributions MUST therefore be on public record. Is there a way to see which corporate or corporatly affiliated entities contributed to his election campaign?</p>
    <p>Are lobbying activities directed at Sen. Pacheco public information , so the electorate can see who he is beholden to?</p>
    <p>As an elected official, Sen. Pacheco should be subjected to intense scrutiny of his dealings as an elected official, and unless he comes out clean, should be prosecuted for fraud and/or corruption</p>
    <p>The integrity of elected officials must be beyond peproach. Trust is parmount.</p>
    <p>I am also aware that this seldom happens in the ‘real’ world, So much more the pity…</p>

  2. Why hasn’t someone publicly confronted Senator Pacheco with the analysis I saw done some time back of the state of assistive technology in OpenOffice? IIRC it pretty much put paid to his whinging about accessibility. I’ll have to see if I can find the link again.

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