Open Bar: The Ministry of Defense Persists in Its Bad-Faith Strategy

In its response to Written Question 24267, by Senator Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, the Ministry of Defense mentioned the existence of a “risk-opportunity assessment” that was the rational basis for the Open Bar agreement with Microsoft. The reality is that, from the Ministry's point of view, government fiat amounts to sound analysis, confirming beyond a doubt that, far from being a reasonable and well thought-out choice, the Open Bar is a purely political decision, an opaque power play in disregard of public interest.

Following the statement by the Defense officials, April requested the “risk-opportunity assessment”, as well as studies “concerning the assessment of risk, the actions that could reduce potential risk, and the analysis of opportunities”, which had also been mentioned in the answer to the Senator.
Here is the response from the Ministry's Legal Department: all of this information is to be found (sic) in a document that was sent to us in June 2013! The document in question is memo no. 513/DEF/DGSIC/DA-AT [PDF, in French], dated May 2008, from the steering committee in charge of assessing Microsoft's Open Bar agreement proposal. We didn't have much hope of receiving rational and tangible elements justifying the choice of the Open Bar; however, calling this memo a “risk-opportunity assessment” is barely veiled sophistry.

This document should be read in the context of its writing (please refer to our chronological account [in French], which preceded the airing of the “Cash Investigation” TV show about Open Bar on October 18, 2016):

  • In July 2007, the General Directorate for Information and Communication Services (Direction générale des services d'information et de communication — DGSIC) mandated a steering committee — chaired by Alain Dunaud, then Vice-Director of the DGSIC, and now in charge of Defense contracts for Sopra Steria Group SA — to study Microsoft's Open Bar proposal.
  • This committee appointed a group of nine military experts to analyze the risks around four scenarios. The conclusion of the experts' report was as follows: “Considering the high level of risk and the extra cost as compared with the current configuration's, the work group advises against entering a contractual relation in the form of a global contract [the Open Bar], unless it is restricted to office software” (letter no. 184/DEF/DGSIC/SDAI, January 18, 2008, and its annex [in French]).
  • On February 15, 2008, Military Staff (État-major des armées — EMA) provided the DGSIC with a note (no. 305/DEF/EMA/EPI/PSIOC/NP [PDF, in French]) that explained, without any compelling argument, that the report's conclusions were “partial” and “difficult to verify and use”. Military Staff then specified that “to comply with ministerial orientations it recommended that “the contractualization process with Microsoft [should] be continued”, thus ignoring the risks highlighted by the experts' report.
  • In May 2008, finally, the steering committee signed memo no. 513, which was presented in January 2017 as a “risk-opportunity assessment” by government authorities in their response to the Senator's written question.

Let's now take a look at this memo, which the government presents as the result of “work and reflection conducted by the Directorate for Information and Communication Services, prior to the signature of the [Open Bar] agreement”:

  • Nine of the risks that are listed in the report are considered “the most dangerous”: dependence and exit costs, for instance. Not mentioned, on the other hand, are the risks of “backdoors” and “loss of sovereignty”, despite their being clearly identified by the experts. Secondary details, it seems!
  • The text then lists a few opportunities that were “evaluated” by the steering committee, such as the ability to “rationalize the Ministry's software assets”. None of the evaluation criteria are specified.
  • Finally, this same committee considers — in a very short paragraph entitled “risk-opportunity assessment” — that the listed risks will vanish upon conclusion of the contract, will be manageable through appropriate measures, or will not increase “significantly” with this type of ccontract. A ways away from effective action for the development of controlled and sustainable computing.
These elements barely fill two pages and, in lieu of a sound study, we are, along with the Members of Parliament, supposed to rely on the steering committee's evaluations and estimates. As note no. 305 of the EMA states, the “opinion” of government officials is supposed to be self-sufficient and require no further demonstration.

These various documents are revealing, because they show that the choice of an Open Bar contract is truly a political decision, which was made before completion of feasibility and risk assessments. And these very assessments, even though they were made at the highest level of the Defense administration, were ignored, because they didn't correspond to the decisions that had already been made. In this respect, the Ministry's answer demonstrates the same bad-faith strategy. The experts' report is presented as “part of the work and reflection” on the subject; the document, however, together with the very critical report of the Public Procurement Commission, is the only rational element known to the public.

Finally, in an example of the bad faith characterizing this affair, in response to the Senator's Written Question, the Ministry wrote, “It should be noted that the scenario that was chosen wasn't the one advised against by the experts, but rather the one deemed to be ‘risky’.”
Yet memo no. 513 clearly states that the agreement concerns “the whole [Microsoft] catalogue, except for games”.
Furthermore, the experts' report says that “scenario 2 (the Microsoft offer that covers the entire catalogue) is discouraged” and “scenario 3 (90/10 offer, restricted to office software) is risky”.
The conclusion of this syllogism doesn't seem open to interpretation. The so-called assessment confirms therefore the inconsistency of the Ministry's position.

With all due respect to the Ministry of Defense, the opinions, assessments, and evaluations without any sound basis cannot be considered “studies”, and certainly not “risk-opportunity assessments”. Given the stubbornness of la Grande Muette (the Armed Forces), setting up a parliamentary investigation committee seems to be necessary more than ever. April calls on the next presidential candidates to take a stand on this crucial issue of digital sovereignty.