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Government Watch: How Open Is Open?

Massachusetts' attempt to push use of open-source software is being challenged by a state lawmaker who is questioning its legality. Sen. Marc Pacheco has asked the head of Massachusetts' Office of Administration and Finance to provide him with information on the legislative authority for its policy advocating open-source standards and software.

The state lawmaker was responding to a memo sent by Office of Administration and Finance secretary Eric Kriss to the state's CIO, Peter Quinn, last fall. "We can no longer afford a disjointed and proprietary approach that locks up legacy systems, generates excessive use of outside consultants and creates long, often misguided project plans," Kriss wrote. "Effective immediately, we will adopta comprehensive Open Standards, Open Source policy for all future IT investments and operating expenditures." Pacheco, a Democrat, said the policy is "perceived to be an exclusionary policy that excludes proprietary software." Pacheco is chairman of Massachusetts' Post Audit and Oversight Committee and said he has received "lots of calls" from software companies concerned that they will be locked out of the state's $80 million IT budget.

In a letter last week to Kriss, Pacheco asked: "1. Under what legal authority is the administration purporting to act in implementing its Open Source/Open Standards Policy; and 2. Please explain how the policy, which appears to be a preferential policy, doesn't run afoul of the Massachusetts' General Laws."

Pacheco said he's worried that a proprietary software vendor "that has a lower cost-of-ownership proposal would be thrown out" of competition for state projects by the open-source policy. Pacheco said Kriss, a former software entrepreneur, failed to appear at a recent Oversight Committee hearing, thus prompting his letter.

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