Subject: Mass. Bill to Block OpenDocument Format Standard
From: Seth Johnson <>
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 2005 06:01:12 -0800


Bill-bomb dropped on OpenDocument Format in Massachusetts

Posted by David Berlind ( @ 7:38 pm

November 2, 2005

This is relatively late breaking news and more details won't be
known until tomorrow.  Two days after a Senate oversight
committee in Massachusetts (1) questioned the authority of the
state's IT department (ITD) to standardize on formats for storing
public documents and (2) demanded that state officials take more
time to study the potential impact of setting the OpenDocument
Format (ODF) as a standard, an economic stimulus bill that goes
before the Massachusetts Senate tomorrow (Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005)
has been suddenly ammended with text that, if passed, would
essentially subjugate all IT procurements and ITD decisions
including standard setting to a special task force. 

Based on the way the ammended text makes specific reference to
document formats and technology selections for state workers with
disabilities, it turns the stimulus bill into a bomb that could
easily blow up ODF's already weakened chances of becoming a
statewide document standard.  The salient points of the ammended
text says the following:

    There shall be a commonwealth information technology expert
task force, hereinafter referred to as the task force, consisting
of 4 members to be appointed by the governor, 1 member to be
appointed by the treasurer, 1 member to be appointed by the state
secretary, and 1 member to be appointed by the auditor……An 
executive agency or department shall not adopt or implement a
policy, practice or standard  concerning information technology
standards  or systems or the  procurement or use of hardware,
software , and cellular phones and other electronic devices,
without the affirmative approval of the task force by majority
vote. Any  executive agency or department policy, practice or
standard  concerning the creation, storage or archiving of
documents or materials shall also be approved by the supervisor
of public records and the records conservation board, and shall
be certified by the state auditor as maintaining or enhancing the
commonwealth's compliance with Section 508 of the federal
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973. 

Not being familiar with how such legislative text is treated in
practice, it's hard to figure out just what exactly to make of
the ammended bill.  But taken at face value,  just about any
IT-related activity including something as simple as a single
sourcing purchase orders for Push-to-Talk cell phones (eg: from
Nextel) could be stretched to fit within the jurisdiction of the
bill if passed as is.  It's therefore unclear to what extent the
text and the decisions it subjects to the approval of the task
force could have a paralyzing effect on the State's procurement
of technology. 

There are no details on who sponsored the ammended text.  That
information will apparently become available tomorrow when the
bill reaches the Senate floor.  However, the coincidence of the
text isn't the only thing that connects the ammended text to this
past Monday's hearing.  Senator Marc R. Pacheco, the Senate Post
Audit and Oversight Committee chairperson who led the hearing is
also on the Senate's Ways and Means Committee
(  If Pacheco had
anything to do with the introduction of the text or knew of it
and didn't object, it would be rather ironic given the way
Pacheco characterized the ODF ratification process as one that
didn't include as many people as it should have and ultimately as
a process that was too rushed.

A lot of political stops are being pulled out to stop the ODF
decision dead in its tracks.  What makes the political
maneuvering unsual is that ODF is small part of the state's
Enterprise Technical Reference Model — a much larger and all
encompassing technology blueprint for Massachusetts that sets
many other standards that haven't received one iota of scrutiny
from the state's politicians.  One thing is for sure.  There's
more to these politics than meets the eye.  It reminds me of a
book I once read called I Never Played the Game by Howard
Cosell.  In that book, Cosell laments about how the most
significant events in sports — events that affected the outcome
of most competition — took place off the field (or outside of the
boxing ring, etc.).