Open Bar contract between Microsoft and the French Ministry of Defence: new documents support political games and Government intervention

Paris, 14 October 2013. Press release.

Following our request for administrative documents, we received three documents from the French Ministry of Defence, about its 2008 “Open Bar” contract with Microsoft. These documents show that choosing an Open Bar contract was indeed the result of a political decision which clearly was made before the feasibility and risks studies were being performed.

This framework contract, which was signed without any open call for tender or competitive procedure, granted right of use on some Microsoft products and associated services for the duration of the contract, i.e. four years. It was signed in complete secrecy, despite numerous negative opinions, and was the subject of several leaks to the press.

Taking advantage of this information, we made two successive requests for administrative documents. The first one obtained a partially usable response. We are now publishing the released documents resulting from the second one.

Let us start with the chronological background.

In its letter no. 375/DEF/DGSIC/SDAI/DR-SF [FR] dated 20 June 2007, the DGSIC (Direction générale des services d'information et de communication - General Directorate for Information and Communication Systems, under direct authority of the Ministry of Defence) provides numerous recipients, including the Chef d'état-major des armées (Chief of the Defence Staff) and the Chef de cabinet of the Ministry of Defence, with “Guidelines for establishing partnerships with software editors” which stress the benefits, to the Ministry of Defence, of building a “privileged relationship” with Microsoft.

In its letter no. 457/DEF/DGSIC/DAT/DR [FR], dated 13 July 2007, the DGSIC mandates a steering committee to evaluate Microsoft's Open Bar proposal. This committee is made up in particular of representatives of the DGSIC, DIRISI (Direction interarmées des réseaux d'infrastructure et des systèmes d'informations de la défense française - French National Defense Inter-arm Infrastructure and Information Systems Directorate) and EMA (État-major des armées - Defence staff). Its president is the Deputy Director of the DGSIC.

A group of nine experts from DGSIC, EMA, SGA and DIRISI is given the task of performing a risk analysis for the steering committee. The conclusion of its report (letter no. 184/DEF/DGSIC/SDAI dated 18 January 2008, and Appendix [FR]) states that “given the high risk and the higher cost, as compared with the present situation, the working group advises against contracting on a global basis [the Open Bar contract proposed by Microsoft], unless the scope of the contract is restricted to office software”.

These facts have been known for some time and the expert group's conclusion made the final signature of the Microsoft Open Bar contract difficult to understand. The documents that we obtained following our CADA (Commission for accessing administrative documents) request shed light on the decision-making process.

One of these documents is the note no. 305/DEF/EMA/EPI/PSIOC/NP [FR] dated 15 February 2008, from the EMA to the DGSIC. This is critical of the risk evaluation of the Open Bar contracting procedure proposed by Microsoft, despite the study originating from the DGSIC-headed working group. The EMA explains that the conclusions are “biased” and “difficult to ascertain and make use of”. The EMA then states that “in order to comply with ministerial guidelines”, it advises to “go ahead with the contracting procedure with Microsoft Corp.”, and ignore the risks that the DGSIC evaluation points out.

The second document that we received is the note no. 513/DEF/DGSIC/DA-AT [FR] dated 30 May 2008, written by the Deputy Director of the DGSIC, also the President of the working group's steering committee. This note, no. 513, refers to the expert group's evaluation (letter n°184/DEF/DGSIC/SDAI dated 18 January 2008) but misrepresents its conclusions, as regards the various contract options in particular. The expert group was strongly reluctant to the Open Bar option and rather advised limiting the scope of the contract to office software. The new conclusions stand for a relative innocuousness!

"These documents are interesting, especially nos. 513 and 305, because they show that the choice of Open Bar contracting does follow a political decision that evidently was made before the feasibility and risk evaluations were performed. And those studies were overlooked when they were not in line with the already-made decisions” said Frédéric Couchet, Executive Director of April.

On the basis of the last two notes, one which rejects the conclusions of the expert group without giving reasons and the other which misrepresents them, the General Director of Information and Communication Systems writes to the Chief of Defence Staff (letter no. 514/DEF/DGSIC/DA/AT [FR] dated 30 May 2008) to request validation of the commitment authority for the Open Bar contract, and sends along an edited summary of the DGSIC-signed risk analysis (the above-mentioned note no. 513/DEF/DGSIC/DA-AT).

Finally, it is noteworthy that the conclusions of the DGSIC experts are available thanks to their publication on the website of the TV show “Le Vinvinteur”. Indeed our CADA request to access the complete study only brought us redacted material [FR], which did not allow us to read the conclusion.

To find out more about the Open Bar case:

About April

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.

For more information, you may visit, contact us by phone at +33 1 78 76 92 80, or use our contact form.

Press contact:

Frédéric Couchet, Executive Director, +33 6 60 68 89 31

Jeanne Tadeusz, Public Affairs Officer, +33 1 78 76 92 82