The French Ministry of Defence has renewed its Open Bar contract with Microsoft until 2017. Will there ever be any changes?
Paris, 22 January 2014. Press release.
At the end of December 2013, the French Ministry of Defence responded to our request for copies of the documents of the “Open Bar” contract with Microsoft.
Therefore, we received a copy of the new contract documents for the time period 2013-2017 [fr], the Subsequent Procurement Contract Agreement, [fr] and the “General Secretariat for Administration” memorandum [fr] about the renewal of the Framework Agreement.
These documents confirm that the “Open Bar” contract has indeed been renewed in 2013. Despite extensive blacking out, these documents provide a few indications on the scope of the contract, as well as the ever increasing dependence on Microsoft, of the Ministry of Defence. Notwithstanding changes in the leadership of the State and government services since 2012, the policy of a privileged partnership with Microsoft continues.
The Open Bar case, a framework agreement without publicity nor call for tenders.
As a reminder, the “Open Bar” Microsoft/Defence Framework Agreement, which was signed in 2009, without call for tenders or competition, gave the French Ministry of Defence the right to use some Microsoft products and related services for the whole contract period of four years. It had been approved, despite numerous unfavourable opinions, at the cost of neglecting many public procurement principles, and in utmost secrecy.
We have been working throughout 2013 to shed light on this dossier. In October 2013, we published an article which was based on three documents that we had received from the Ministry of Defence, and which demonstrated that the choice of an “Open Bar” contract in 2009 was indeed the result of a political decision that was clearly made before any feasibility studies were conducted.
Late in 2013, we made another request for copies of documents related to the renewal of the contract in 2013.
New documents that question the always-opaque renewal of a dangerous contract
An initial element of crucial information is found in the Framework Agreement: the agreement was indeed renewed for the time period 2013-2017, in a similar legal form, and still with Microsoft Ireland. Even though the exact amounts are unknown because they were blacked out, it seems certain that the contract is for at least 200,000 workstations1. This way we know for a fact that, despite criticism of that legal form2, it is still an “Open Bar” contract that has been signed.
Moreover, just as with the preceding contract, government services other than the Ministry of Defence can also use this contract, simply by signing a subsequent contract agreement. It seems that for the 2013-2017 period, four other government services (whose names were unfortunately blacked out), have expressed their interest.
The legal memorandum from the Finance Department of the Ministry of Defence, dated 25 July 2012, reveals that the decision to sign a new four-year contract was made at the ministerial level:
“The choice of Microsoft (as a supplier) could receive extensive media coverage, given the recent articles about this corporation. This calls for keeping a unified Ministry position and a decision taken at the Minister's level.
This document also mentions “the Ministry's decision to not use Free Software”, which was entirely based on fallacious arguments:
“According to a summary table presented by the DIRISI3 to the Procurement Committee, the full cost of using Free Software would be close to that of using the Microsoft licenses. In fact, although there would be no initial purchase of licenses, system updates will not be gratis. Other costs also have to be taken into account, such as the training of support personnel, as Free Software requires a higher level of user involvement. More hardware must also be purchased, to be able to use the free software."
“Such an accumulation of untruths, unsupported by any credible argument, leaves one speechless”, says Jeanne Tadeusz, April's Public Affairs Officer. “Is it still necessary to remind people that Free Software provides benefits in terms of hardware sustainability, that the updates are just as free as the software itself, and that Free Software doesn't necessarily require any special involvement from its users?”
The complete lack of explanation
Finally, this political decision has quenched debate and restricted contradiction: for instance, as early as July 2012, the memorandum from the Finance Department states that “the review by the ‘Ministerial Committee for Investments’ (CMI) would be an opportunity to confirm the relevance of the option, chosen by the Ministry, of not using Free Software.” The CMI's opinion seems to have been heard, even before the matter was brought to it.
“Not a single word about the surveillance and backdoor issues in proprietary software, when these are immediate threats to national security,” adds Frédéric Couchet, April's Executive Director. “On the contrary, what is apparent from this dossier is a will to blindly follow up on a predetermined choice, however dangerous to national security and technological independence it may be.”
Answers were not to be found either at the Forum International de la Cybersécurité, that took place on January 21st and 22nd, 2014. According to the French daily L'Humanité [fr], Counter-Admiral Croustillière, a General Officer for cyberdefence, swept the issue away by saying that “Free Software is not the answer to the cybersecurity issues”. He probably hadn't read the Mediapart article of Thursday December 12th, 2013, with a testimony from one of the parties to this dossier:
“I am a military person. And I must say that I am not proud of my country,” he further says. “I could have accepted a lot of things, as long as I was told why. In this case, we never had any answer. The motto which we are fighting for, and which many of us have shed blood for, is ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’. In this dossier, we gave away our freedom, we betrayed our country. And to this day I am unable to tell you why...”
A more detailed analysis of these documents will be published shortly; on the basis of this information, April has made new requests for copies of administrative documents in order to learn more about the terms and conditions of contract renewal.
A Pioneer of Free Software in France since 1996, April is a major player in the democratisation of Free Software and open standards, and in their spread to the general public, professionals and institutions of the French-speaking world. In the digital era that is ours, it also aims to inform the public on the dangers of an exclusive appropriation of information and knowledge by private interests.
The organisation is a non-profit and it has over 3,600 members, who use or produce Free Software.
Frédéric Couchet, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org +33 6 60 68 89 31
Jeanne Tadeusz, Public Affairs Officer, email@example.com +33 1 78 76 92 82
- 1. On page 18 of the Framework Agreement, it is stated that the initial Subsequent Contract Agreement of Defence must reach an amount of at least 200,000 workstations before another government service (a ministry or other type of service) is allowed to also make a contract agreement.
- 2. See for instance the caveats expressed by the expert group from the Ministry as early as 2006 [fr].
- 3. DIRISI: Interarmy Department for Infrastructure Networks and Information Systems (Direction interarmée des réseaux d'infrastructure et des systèmes d'information).