A Win for Microsoft in Massachusetts?

In the fall of 2004, Peter J. Quinn, the CIO of the state of Massachusetts, was the only government IT executive willing to be quoted on the record as an ardent advocate for open source in a CIO article about Microsoft’s extensive lobbying efforts on the state and federal level. Soon after, Quinn became a vocal advocate of OpenDocument Format (ODF), an XML-based format for saving and exchanging documents. Indeed, under his guidance, the administration of Governor Mitt Romney in the fall of 2005 announced plans to store government records using ODF, a move that could result in the state’s government agencies phasing out Microsoft Office.

But several powerful state officials objected to the plan. Secretary of State William Galvin publicly criticized the move, and a state senator held a hearing on the ODF plan in October at which he also raised objections to it.

On Nov. 26, 2005, an article in the Boston Globe charged that Quinn had made trips to sponsored technology conferences without proper approval. Quinn was soon cleared of any alleged ethical violations, but the front-page blast spelled the end of his public sector career. Quinn believes that Microsoft was behind the story. He resigned in January, saying he didn’t want to go on fighting Microsoft and local Massachusetts officials opposed to the move to ODF.

"Everybody attributes the article to folks opposing the open format piece," Quinn said in an interview with CIO. "Every corporation was endorsing us with the exception of Microsoft."

In a recent interview, Microsoft officials did not confirm or deny they were involved in drawing the Globe’s attention to Quinn’s travel itinerary. "Peter’s travels were public records, and reporters just looked into it," said Alan Yates, general manager for business strategy within the Microsoft Office team.

However, public documents as well as interviews with lobbyists and state officials show that Microsoft lobbied to oppose Massachusetts’ move to ODF. Former Microsoft employees and open-source advocates say that since 28 percent of Microsoft’s $39.7 billion in yearly revenue comes from use of Office software, the software giant stands to lose a great deal if Massachusetts’ example inspires other government entities to abandon Office.

In 2005, Microsoft lobbyists visited a number of state officials on Beacon Hill, and trade associations with ties to Microsoft sent letters criticizing the state’s move to ODF. Campaign finance records show that those state officials who most vocally opposed the plan received campaign contributions from Microsoft lobbyists. For instance, state Sen. Marc Pacheco, who held hearings on the move to OpenDocument Format at which he voiced opposition to the plan, received $600 in campaign contributions from Microsoft lobbyists over the past three years. And Secretary of State Galvin received $400, according to state campaign contribution records. "Microsoft has banked on ODF not being a credible threat to them," says Andy Updegrove, an attorney at the Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove, who has represented OASIS, the nonprofit group that developed ODF.

At the same time, IBM and Sun, which stand to gain from the adoption of ODF in Massachusetts, lobbied in favor of its adoption. An IBM lobbyist donated $100 in February 2005 to state Sen. Richard Moore, who was present at the ODF hearing led by Sen. Pacheco, but has not commented publicly on the debate.

The fight over ODF in Massachusetts is just the latest example of Microsoft’s aggressive lobbying tactics around open-source issues in the past seven years, which were documented in the 2004 CIO story. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has developed one of the most sophisticated lobbying networks in the country and spends significantly more money on lobbying than any other technology company in the United States, according to the CIO article in 2004 that quoted Quinn. (For more on this, read "Mr. Gates Goes to Washington.")

And now, several government CIOs say Quinn’s saga provides a cautionary tale for those interested in exploring open systems.

"Quinn’s resignation sent the message to many of us CIOs that opposing big vendor interests may not be good for our careers," says Andy Stein, director of IT in Newport News, Va., and an open-source proponent. "Doing so may mean that we end up like Peter Quinn."

The Argument for Open Standards

Quinn says he first got interested in open standards two years ago. His vision for Massachusetts, he says, was simple: Government documents—whether pieces of legislation, tax records or birth certificates—should be open to all because they may one day be important historical documents. Since the life of a government document may be longer than that of a particular software product or vendor, ODF advocates say open file formats can help ensure that they’ll be available to citizens in the future.

"Access to government documents should be unimpeded by proprietary licenses," Quinn argues. "Whose documents are they? Are they Microsoft’s? We should not be storing them in proprietary formats."

As early as 2003, Quinn’s boss, Eric Kriss, then the secretary of administration and finance, said Massachusetts was looking into open standards as a way to increase interoperability of systems and cut costs. These discussions percolated until March 2005, when the IT Division (ITD) posted a draft of its open formats standard online for public comment. Six months later, in September 2005, the state’s ITD announced that all documents created by state executive branch agencies must be saved in ODF by January 2007. ODF, an "open" standard, is compatible with Sun’s StarOffice and IBM’s Workplace software suites, as well as open-source players such as OpenOffice.org.

Money in Politics

The battle over proprietary versus open documents software began heating up well before the ITD’s September announcement. Observers say that lobbyists on both sides of the issue turned up on Beacon Hill earlier in 2005 and met with Galvin, Sen. Pacheco, chairman of the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, and others.

In July 2005, a registered Microsoft lobbyist, Maureen Glynn, donated $200 to Pacheco, according to campaign finance records. Glynn, who lobbies for other companies as well, also gave Pacheco $200 in 2003. In January 2004, Mario Rebello, then a Microsoft employee and lobbyist, donated $200 to Pacheco’s campaign.

Galvin also received a show of support from Microsoft in the form of a $200 December 2005 donation from Brian Burke, Microsoft’s Northeast regional government affairs director. Glynn donated $200 to Galvin in October 2004, well before the ODF discussion heated up on Beacon Hill. (Neither Pacheco nor Galvin received any money from IBM or Sun lobbyists, according to state campaign contribution records.)

Last fall, both Pacheco and Galvin voiced concerns about the ODF initiative, criticizing the process that led to the ODF mandate. At the hearing Pacheco held on Oct. 31, he questioned the IT Division’s authority in setting policy, and also voiced concern over whether OpenDocument sufficiently addressed the needs of the disabled community, providing the same levels of access as Microsoft’s formats to those with vision, hearing or other disabilities. He called on Quinn and IT Division general counsel Linda Hamel to come up with a more thorough cost-benefit analysis.

As chairman of the Post Audit and Oversight committee, Pacheco says he took a leading role in the discussion because his committee is concerned with "state procurement of software and new procurement strategies." He says he felt no more pressure from Microsoft on the issue than he did from IBM and Sun, who also lobbied legislators regarding ODF. Pacheco says he has known Glynn for years and that her support had nothing to do with the ODF controversy.

"This is not an issue about technology," Pacheco says. "We’re here to make sure there is a level playing field."

The Initiative for Software Choice, a trade organization with close ties to Microsoft, also wrote a letter to Pacheco a few days before the October 2005 hearing, warning officials against the move toward open standards. "The ODF policy creates a biased procurement mandate for open-source vendors to the detriment of all other competitors," the letter stated.

At the same time, Sun and IBM were also lobbying in favor of ODF, including a major letter-writing campaign on the part of Sun employees in Massachusetts. Public records show that Microsoft paid Massachusetts lobbyists salaries totaling $69,200 in 2005, while Sun, which has a major facility in Burlington, paid $60,000 to its lobbyist. IBM paid its lobbyist $15,000. Employees from all three companies have also given contributions to various political campaigns in Massachusetts. (Since Jan. 1, 2003, Sun employees have given a total of $4,675 to Massachusetts candidates, while IBM employees have donated $12,375. Employees of Microsoft, which has significantly fewer workers in the state, contributed a total of $450.)

"A decision by any Microsoft employee to contribute is a personal decision," says Ginny Terzano, spokeswoman for Microsoft. "The industry, including Microsoft, has a very politically active employee base."

Turf Wars

Some observers say Quinn’s OpenDocument initiative became a victim of the rough-and-tumble of Massachusetts partisan politics. Quinn, for instance, worked for a Republican administration, which has often clashed with Democratic officials and legislators. Observers saw the conflict ultimately pitting the Democrat Galvin, who has responsibility for public records, against Quinn’s boss, Republican Thomas Trimarco, secretary of administration and finance. (Galvin did not return a call seeking comment.)

Pacheco contends that Quinn and the state’s IT department failed to involve other state agencies in the decision to go with the OpenDocuments Format. "Rules, regulations and law were ignored in the development of this new standard," he charges.

Pacheco’s committee is now working on a report that examines the process that was followed, as well as a cost-benefit analysis of the ODF plan.

Quinn acknowledges that he should have spent more time with legislators explaining the significance of open standards. He also regrets not involving members of the disability community. He says that OpenDocument-based products do need to be improved to address people with visual and hearing disabilities, but that those who support the standard are working to fix the problems. "I said categorically, we would move the date for the ODF mandate if documents were not accessible to the disability community," Quinn says.

After the Storm

The scrutiny and time spent with lawyers has taken an "immense personal toll on me and my children, siblings and friends," Quinn said in a recent interview.

"I never expected how far people would reach in opposition," he said. "My experience shows that if you stick your head out, you’ll get pummeled."

While he looks for a new job, Quinn is traveling, speaking at conferences about his experience and the benefits of what he calls "document freedom." He says he is encouraged by the recent formation of the ODF Alliance, a group of more than 35 U.S. and international IT vendors, organizations, academic institutions and industry bodies. The new group, whose initial members include IBM, Oracle and Sun, will focus on education and promotion of the OpenDocument file format. Quinn and other ODF proponents see the ODF Alliance as a necessary resource for those CIOs interested in open standards. Microsoft, however, sees this new group as nothing more than a "marketing committee" for ODF, Yates says.

In the meantime, Microsoft says it is committed to promoting the document format it created for Office, called Office Open XML. In November, the company submitted Open XML to the ISO standards process, a move that is seen as an effort to make it more attractive to governments and organizations interested in supporting open standards. More recently, Microsoft set the stage for a long-term industry battle over document formats by forming a technical community of developers to promote the OpenXML format. The group is seen as a rival to the ODF Alliance.

Quinn’s experience, however, seems to have had a chilling effect on other government CIOs’ plans to convert to OpenDocument Format. Ben Berry, CIO of Oregon’s Department of Transportation, says his department uses Linux for some back office applications, but he adds that Oregon wouldn’t adopt Massachusetts’ strategy of an ODF mandate out of concern that it could spark a similar "upheaval event."

Stein, the Newport News CIO, agrees. "This is a highly political issue. The battle is hard to win and, for the moment, I’m not going there."

In Massachusetts, the battle isn’t over. Those on both sides of the issue are watching the fate of a legislative amendment to an economic stimulus bill that would limit the state IT Department’s procurement power. If passed, a task force appointed by the governor would be involved in any IT policy changes such as a switch to the OpenDocument Format.

Quinn’s replacement, Louis Gutierrez, says he plans to move ahead with the open document plan. In a recent column for CIO, Gutierrez said he accepted the job as CIO of Massachusetts in the hopes of exploring "how an open standard framework" would allow government agencies to work better together.

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