April announced on Monday that it had received a letter from the DGSIC (Direction générale des systèmes d’information et de communication, attached to the Minister of Defence), responding favourably to our request for communication of the third open bar / Microsoft contract signed by the Ministry of the Armed Forces.
The association libriste publishes these documents which, despite the redactions, confirm that the administration is determined to lock itself more and more into Microsoft’s privative technological silo despite the numerous criticisms.
In October 2016, a good part of the Cash Investigation programme on France 2 put the spotlight on this famous contract between the French Defense Ministry and Microsoft; Elise Lucet’s team thus introduced the general public to the stakes of this 2009 deal, renewed in 2013 (and so it was again in 2017) between the publisher and one of the most sensitive administrations.
Deploring that the documents received are amply blacked out, in the name of article L311-5 of the code of relations between the public and the administrations and more specifically the industrial and commercial secret, April criticizes a largely disproportionate level of censorship: Access to administrative documents is a right, secrecy is an exception to this right, and the association has referred the matter to the CADA (Commission d’accès aux documents administratifs).
It stresses the obligation to publish the award notice in the Bulletin des Officials des Annonces de Marchés Publics (BOAMP) and in the Official Journal of the European Union: its research yielded nothing, and the librarians stress that this is a valuable procedural obligation to safeguard against conflicts of interest and favouritism offences.
Moreover, beyond questions of law, it does not seem insignificant to us that a market of such magnitude, on a subject as sensitive as defence IT sovereignty and security, despite numerous criticisms, has not been the subject of any form of official communication. If this Open Bar, now twice renewed, is such a success that there is no ‘objective reason’ not to sign it with Microsoft Ireland, why deprive ourselves of communicating about a partnership so profitable for the State and the general interest?
The pre-contractual study [PDF] maintains an argument built around a fundamental inconsistency: the fact that a large part of a system is already subject to a company’s technological silo as an argument to justify the increase of this dependence, as a compatibility issue. Reasoning that is at the very least contradictory to sound management of public funds or any form of common sense.
While it is clearly costly and technically complex to get out of this situation – and it is at the heart of the AFSM’s business strategies to create these situations of heavy dependence – this cannot be used as a justification to dispense with action, let alone to strengthen Microsoft’s grip on the Army’s IT systems.
The April points out that the more you get locked into Microsoft’s technological straitjacket, the harder it will be to get out of it. What the military experts, seized on the first Open bar and whose report was summarily scanned [PDF] without justification, already demonstrated in 2008 by dealing with the risk associated with the ‘cost of exit’.
The document addresses the interdepartmental objective of mutualisation and convergence, where the solution would be to rely on open source software bricks. Except that the Defence text mentions that the preparation of such a migration [to shared open source tools] must be anticipated. Therefore, the Department could not reasonably envisage convergence in the very short term. However, a rally, even partial, in time (before eight years) cannot be ruled out.
April’s conclusion: It is therefore easy to see that the Ministry of the Army is already preparing the ground to justify not only the renewal of the Open Bar for the period 2017-2021, but also for the next four years.
Etienne Gonnu, in charge of the association’s public affairs mission, considers that in view of the documents submitted, the preliminary study only confirms (…) a very strong state of technological dependence, which in itself justifies its own maintenance. A real Stockholm syndrome.
In her answer to a written question from a parliamentarian, Senator (LR) Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly replied on 24 August, after justifying this renewed status quo, that the Ministry of the Armed Forces, aware of the potential offered by free software, will re-examine the possibility of using it in the future, more widely. A road map for the Ministry of the Armed Forces, indicating both the timeline and the applications for which it would be appropriate to move to OSS, will be prepared during 2018.
L’April emphasizes that she will be all the more vigilant with regard to the publication of the roadmap announced by the Minister. In the Cash Investigation of October 2016, Thierry Leblond, General Armament Engineer, head of the report, recalled that before the initial agreement was concluded, the main risk pointed out by the working group was the risk of dependence [on] a single software publisher.
April also deplores the fact that interoperability, a key issue, particularly in terms of digital sovereignty and different from compatibility, is thus invoked, as in the preliminary study, to justify the need to increase the surface area of the system under Microsoft’s control. Worse, it is completely absent from the three successive framework agreements. The term is not even defined.
Frédéric Couchet, General Delegate of April, points out the opacity of the Defence: It is becoming increasingly clear that the Great Mute has no intention of playing the game of transparency, nor of suffering the slightest criticism of his addiction to Microsoft products. It is imperative for Parliament to play its role as guarantor of public policy and to shed light on the opaque and worrying relations between Microsoft and the French State.
In this regard, April recalls that since October 2016, it has been calling for the creation of a parliamentary committee of inquiry into relations between the French State and Microsoft.
Microsoft Open Bar Contract: Armies Straight in their Rangers – August 24, 2017
April is 20 years old, and has all her teeth to defend free software – February 12, 2017
Microsoft/Defence: April demands parliamentary committee to shed light on contract – 1 November 2016
Cash Investigation: Free Software, Defense, Microsoft and Italy – October 22, 2016