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German ministries flout IT open interoperability requirements

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Survey finds only 2 of 87 departments are conforming to federal open document regulations

Research published this week suggests that the majority of federal government departments in Germany are ignoring requirements to implement Open Standards.

A survey was conducted by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) to investigate the state of government adoption of ODF, and to promote wider uptake of Open Standards. "Although federal policy has wisely embraced Open Standards for interoperability, accessibility and security, it is clear that most government bodies are still using inefficient proprietary formats" said Karsten Gerloff, President of FSFE. "Ultimately citizens will end up paying the price for this lack of conformity through higher bills for public IT contracts, and slower services due to interoperability problems" he added. "They will also pay a price in freedom, as they are forced to use proprietary software and standards to communicate with government authorities."

Since the beginning of 2010, the German Information Technology Council (Rat der IT-Beauftragten) has required state departments to support Open Document Format (ODF) in order to communicate with the growing number of individuals and organisations that use it. The policy, which is based upon the findings of the Inter-Ministerial Coordination Committee - a panel of experts from the federal administration, requires that departments have the capacity to read, write and send ODF files.

When 87 letters were sent to the ministries challenging them to demonstrate their conformance by replying in the open format, only two of them replied in ODF as requested. The Chancellor's Office and the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) were the sole respondents to use the correct format. Five other federal bodies responded: all of whom underlined the importance of Open Standards to them. Despite claiming that they were ODF capable however, instead used other non-ODF formats for their response.

Usage of ODF continues to grow in public institutions throughout the world, and is already officially approved in ten separate national standards organisations, in addition to being the mandatory standard for communication between NATO's 26 member states. "The Chancellor's Office and BMELV have set an example for Open Standards in public administration" concluded Matthias Kirschner, German Coordinator of FSFE, "but overall there is clearly a long way to go before practice meets policy for ODF in the German public sector".

FSFE shall continue to monitor ODF uptake in order to ensure the protection of German citizens' right to communicate using Free Software.

The seven bodies that participated in the survey were:

  1. Bundeskanzleramt (The Chancellor's Office)
  2. Bundesministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz (BMELV)
  3. Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI) Bundesforschungsinstitut für Kulturpflanzen
  4. Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau und Stadtentwicklung
  5. Bundesministerium des Innern
  6. Bundespräsidialamt
  7. Der Bundesbeauftragte für den Datenschutz und die Informationsfreiheit