The French Supreme Body of Financial Control Approves the Use of Free Software by Government Services

In its 2018 Public Annual Report, the Cour des Comptes (the French supreme body of financial control) approved the strategy of the DINSIC (Interdepartmental Directorate of Digital Technology, Information and Communication System), particularly its strategy on the use of free software, and recommends that it be amplified and extended throughout government services.

The Cour des Comptes published its 2018 Public Annual Report [fr] on February 7, 2018. Volume I of this report presents “a selection of observations, followed by recommendations for concrete measures aiming to improve the use of public funds and the effectiveness of public services”. Volume I is itself divided into 15 chapters, including one on “amplifying the digital modernisation of the State” [fr], where it calls on the State to use free software.

The Cour des Comptes assesses and controls DINSIC's actions. It commends their work and calls for amplifying it and extending it to other government services. For instance, let's recall DINSIC's recent request for comments on the government's free software contribution policy [fr], which ended on January 28, 2018.

“DINSIC has also developed a strategy — the “Platform State” — based on sharing, and on openness of APIs (application programming interfaces), data and source code”.

In this report, the Cour des Comptes strongly values free software as a driving force towards modernising public administrations. The Cour des Comptes describes free software development as a “powerful way to increase efficiency”, notably in terms of security because “identifying and correcting errors is made easier by a larger number of users and the public status of reported errors”.

“Sharing free software development now appears as a powerful way to increase efficiency and influence. It allows extending the scope of resource pooling beyond the sole sphere of government”.

Thus, among the four recommendations of the Cour des Comptes for “amplifying the digital modernisation of the State”, advocating free software is seen as a lever to “reinforce the State's attractiveness as an employer”. Incidentally, the Cour des Comptes points out that no review on the use of free software in public administrations was available at the end of 2017.

Finally, we should take note of the Cour des Comptes' unambiguous remark on the intrinsic benefits of free software for digital sovereignty. This remark has a special resonance as it follows the second renewal of the Microsoft Open Bar by the French ministry of Armed Forces [fr] by just a few month, and as we just learned that, in 2006, an internal report recommending migration of this ministry's IT to free software was approved by the minister of the day.

“The use of free software is first and foremost a matter of security and sovereignty. It allows users to ascertain what the software does, to protect themselves against undesirable functions and, potentially, to modify it according to identified usages. On the opposite, proprietary software prevents its users from gaining complete knowledge of what it does, as it is distributed without the source code, which remains the publisher's secret”.

April welcomes the Cour des Comptes' unambiguous position in favour of the development of a free and sovereign IT for the common good. It calls on the French Government, and more specifically on Mounir Mahjoubi, the Secretary of State in charge of Digital Affairs, to rise up to the interests at stake. The Government's digital ambitions will remain nothing more than talk without free software [fr].

The quotes from the annual report of the Cour des comptes were translated by April