The Dutch Court of Audit has failed to do an independent review of the government's savings possible with open source, writes Hans Sleurink, editor of the Open Source Jaarboek, an annual review on open source developments, in a public letter published this afternoon.
According to Sleurink, the Court has committed a grave error by limiting its scope to just two policy areas, the internal IT needs of the government and market competition "Instead of reviewing the effectiveness of policy, the court is now setting the agenda." He also accuses the court of having become too close to the interior ministry, losing its role as an independent watchdog.
Sleurink's letter is the most recent addition on a growing list of critical comments on the Court of Audit's failure to estimate how much the Dutch government can save if it would use more open source software. That review, requested by the Dutch Parliament, was published last week Tuesday.
The Court concludes that the government should not have high expectations of these savings, and recommends that the government separates internal IT goals from policies to enhance competition.
The Court writes in its report that it is impossible to get a total for all software costs in the eleven Dutch ministries. "Based partly on estimates, we made an indication of these costs for 2009. The total cost of IT departments, including all hardware and all software, is approximately 2.1 billion Euro. Of this, 88 million Euro, approximately 4 percent, are licensing fees and about 170 million Euro, approximately 8 percent, concerns maintenance of software for which there is an open alternative."
The Court of Audit's report has been intensively criticised by members of the Dutch Parliament and many advocates of free and open source in the past week. It was welcomed by a trade group representing proprietary software vendors.
Lacking concrete numbers, the Court of Audit's report is in stark contrast with calculations done earlier by the ministry of the Interior in 2010. According to that earlier report, the government could save between one to four billion Euro per year. That report looked at government costs for proprietary licences, costs for procurement, costs for licence management and costs for IT maintenance.
The ministry at first denied the existence of this earlier report. Following questions from the Parliament, the ministry then attached it to a letter intended only for the parliament. The letter and the report were accidentally briefly made public. According to the letter from the minister, the earlier report was the work of a single civil servant and, the minister deemed it 'unsound'.
However, this report is actually written by a civil administrator from the ministry of the Interior, a civil administrator from the ministry of Finance, a civil administrator at the ministry of Defence and two IT consultants. The authors, who prefer to remain unnamed, are peeved by the dismissal of their work: "We spent months going over these savings. It is based partly on audited accounting numbers, that were also submitted to the Court of Audit for its study on open source. The Court concluded our numbers 'could not be confirmed'. If that is truly the case, they should not have approved the annual financial report of our ministry either."
Public letter to the Court of Audit (pdf, in Dutch)
Court of Audit's report (pdf, in Dutch)
Computable news item (in Dutch)
Automatisering Gids news item (in Dutch)
Volkskrant news item (in Dutch)