Massachusetts mulls IT review board

Citing concern about an apparent lack of due process within the Massachusetts CIO's office, state Senate lawmakers have developed legislation that calls for an IT oversight committee to evaluate all proposed implementations of standards.

The proposal closely follows the release of the Enterprise Technical Reference Model that the state's Information Technology Division issued in September. Since its release, the ETRM has sparked considerable debate because it mandates that state offices use an open standardized format called OpenDocument for office productivity applications.

'There was considerable frustration in the Legislature about the way the process was unfolding,' said state Sen. Marc Pacheco, chairman of the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee. 'There was a concern about whether or not the actual law was being followed.'

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means appended the proposed rule onto the state's economic stimulus bill, SB 2556, the Commonwealth Investment Act.

The amendment, posted today, calls for creating a four-member executive task force to oversee any proposed state policies concerning the standardization of IT equipment, including hardware, software, cellular phones and other electronic devices.

On Monday, Pacheco held an open oversight hearing to evaluate whether the state Information Technology Division followed proper procedure when enacting the policy. (Consultant Dan Bricklin has archived audio recordings of the hearing.)

Pacheco mentioned a number of concerns raised in that hearing. He said the ITD office did not consult with the state disabilities office. That office had voiced a number of concerns as to whether products that support the Open Document format are Section 508-compliant. Noncompliance could hamper citizen access to data and cost the state in lawsuits, Pacheco said.

Pacheco also criticized the office for not doing a financial assessment of how much it would cost to implement software that would support the Open Document format, which the ETRM requires state offices to have in place by 2007. The most widely used office productivity application, Microsoft Office, does not support the Open Document format.

Peter Quinn, Massachusetts' CIO, has stated that his intention for choosing this format, which is managed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, is to assure that the documents will be preserved for the centuries to come. By having the specifications of how an electronic document is rendered, future generations will know how to reproduce that document even if the software that originally produced it no longer is available.

Pacheco said he does not object to Quinn's goals but he questions the method by which the ITD office introduced the policy.

'I am not putting forth a position about the technology,' Pacheco said. 'We have standards and laws that a state agency has to be following.'

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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