IBM Ethics Chickens Come Home to Roost

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For months, IBMers like Bob Sutor and Rob Weir have been making outraged noises regarding perceived ethics issues surrounding the OOXML vote. They have been ‘shocked, SHOCKED’ by all the arm twisting and lobbying surrounding the vote. In fact Sutor went so far as to say “… if you see strange statements being made about OOXML or see bad behavior with respect to trying to get support for it in these last 11 days, I encourage you to let people know”.

It looks like the US federal government took Bob’s advice, and let people know about ethics violations of a big company. The violator?


As of last Thursday, IBM is BARRED from getting any new contracts with the US Federal government.

The GSA’s database says IBM was listed “based on an indictment or other adequate evidence (a) to suspect the commission of an offense that is a cause for debarment or (b) that other causes for debarment under the agency regulations may exist.”

and IBM says: “The notice of temporary suspension was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and relates to an investigation by the EPA of possible violations of the Procurement Integrity provisions…”

In plain english, IBM appears to have bribed or strongarmed someone into signing a contract!

From personal experience, I know that IBM State contract lobbyists have not always been forthcoming about their work on ODF; and while the ODF Alliance is ostensibly a coalition, it’s really an army of ONE.

I am not shocked IBM has had their privileges suspended for procurement malfeasance. In fact, procurement mandates were always at the core of the whole ODF vs. OOXML fight.

IBM and Sun created the¬†ODF format from the format used by StarOffice, a Microsoft Office Clone. Sure, Open Office was being developed with IBM money and was the main platform for ODF, but it certainly wasn’t a product that was breaking new ground.

Instead, ODF’s message from the get go was more related to business model and the role of government. There certainly could not have been a firm belief that ODF was a “if you build it they will come” situation-
not given Microsoft’s marketshare and dominance.

In fact Andy Updegrove (one of the ODF’s lead voices, and a person with whom I often disagree but respect immensely) points to this reality in his reasons for NOT supporting OOXML:

“By making their procurement budgets publicly available for ODF-compliant products, these governments can provide market incentives to bring competition back to the desktop, where it has been largely extinguished for almost two decades”.

Therefore, ODF was built with the clear intent of creating a fulcrum point for government intervention.

So while I don’t dislike ODF as a format, I find the fact that IBM was trying to manipulate governments into doing their dirty work for them reprehensible.

Governments should not mandate any specific standard, including OOXML. Instead, government procurement should be about meeting goals; be it public policy or public service, but not the goal of selling more IBM Global Services contracts.