Citizens Against Government
(CAGW) issued a strongly-worded
press release against the state of Massachusetts's initiative
to move toward open systems, we at LWN decided to take a longer look at
this organization's background and see why they might exhibit such
hostility toward open source.
According to CAGW's website, the group has been in operation since 1984.
It is, according to its press materials "a private, non-partisan,
non-profit organization" on a mission to eliminate "waste,
mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government." It claims to
be "nationally recognized as the source of information on
government waste," with more than one million members.
Apparently, Microsoft has
been one of the corporate donors that provided funding to CAGW in the
past. But the group prefers to remain mum on
whether Microsoft continues to fund them and what other groups may
be providing funding.
We contacted CAGW directly to find out whether Microsoft is still
donating money, and how they came to form their opinions on open source
use in government. We spoke to CAGW President Tom Schatz, who also
declined to specify whether CAGW is still receiving money from Microsoft
and said that interested parties could examine CAGW's IRS 990 filing.
CAGW is required to make this document available upon request, but is not
required to provide the names of its donors.
We located CAGW's filings for 2000 and 2001 online, but the donor information had been whited out. According to CAGW's website, about 85 percent of the organization's funding comes from individual contributors, with the remaining 15 percent coming from corporate and foundation gifts. In 2001, three contributors donated a total of $490,765 to CAGW, accounting for only 10 percent of the non-profit group's entire income of $4,898,720 for the year. In 2000, CAGW brought in $4,846,934 with a single anonymous donor of $150,000. If Microsoft or one of the foundations it supports is still a contributor to CAGW, the contributions are only a minor percentage of overall contributions.
To be sure, CAGW does not exist solely as an apologist or mouthpiece for
Microsoft. The organization tracks government spending in many areas
unrelated to the software industry, and provides ratings for members of congress, according to their criteria of eliminating government waste.
However, the group has been unrelenting in its opposition
to the governments' antitrust suit against Microsoft, and was part of the
"grass-roots" effort to stir up public support against the suit. The group
made headlines after some of their form letters were mailed in by CAGW
members who had
Citizens Against Government Waste, on the other hand, distributed
identical letters to citizens. Those varied only by the signature
attached. The two letters from beyond the grave came from the Citizens
Against Government Waste crop. According to the Times, family members
crossed out the names and signed for them. Another letter was sent from
"Tuscon, Utah," a city that doesn't even exist.
When news hit the wires late last month that Massachusetts may be
favoring open source, CAGW was quick to oppose the idea -- apparently
without bothering to get all the facts on the issue first. Schatz admitted
that he later found that, contrary to the position stated in
the release, Massachusetts was not barring proprietary vendors
from competing for state contracts. Schatz says he will issue a second
release with a correction "if something does come out in writing from the
state...we've seen quotes, but nothing in writing."
We asked Schatz if he opposes open source software in government, and he
replied that he was not opposed to open source software but was opposed
to a policy that prefers or requires single-sourcing.
We have been fairly consistent with support for the concept of
dual-sourcing a piece of equipment...the state needs to consider what
the best product is, what's going to operate most efficiently.
We also asked Schatz about the communist rhetoric contained in their
"Mass. Taxpayers Hurt by Proposed Software Monopoly" release. Schatz
denied that comparisons of Massachusetts' open source policy were
designed to tie in with other comparisons of open source and free
software to communism or socialism.
If you read any of our stuff... take a look at our porker of the month,
we're just as strong in our language... I may choose my words more
carefully next time. We're trying to raise an government issue, not an
issue with how people see the world. Communism won't be part of the next
Schatz also mentioned that CAGW group received a number of e-mails from
the Linux community on the topic, and had discovered that the community
does not appreciate comparisons to communism or socialism. He also noted
that CAGW receives strong reactions to many of their releases, not just
those on the topic of Linux or open source. A cursory search of CAGW's
website did not turn up references to socialism or communism as
metaphors for other government waste. The reader can judge for
themselves whether the tone in other CAGW releases is similar to the
tone of the "Proposed Software Monopoly" release.
It may be that CAGW is poorly informed on the benefits of open source,
and too easily swayed by pro-Microsoft studies. Schatz acknowledged that
CAGW had not performed any studies independently to determine the cost
benefits of open source products versus proprietary software.
We honestly don't have the expertise here to fight the studies, or to
make our own, we rely on things that are out there...since open source
is newer for government experience, we should probably wait and see how
it works and what the expenses are on the other side.
It's clear that CAGW carries a substantial amount of influence with a
widespread public audience, and with elected officials. Open source
advocates would do well to keep tabs on future pronouncements from the
group, and to work toward politely educating CAGW on the benefits of
free software and the unnecessary waste of government funds on proprietary
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