Actually this is a bidding procedure issue. The department bought Microsoft licenses without giving anyone else a chance to bid on the software. For me, government shouldn't be paying any corporation -- Google included -- for proprietary software. It's a waste of taxpayer money in this age.
No, it looks like they gave opportunities for bids- they just wanted it to fit with their current MS infrastructure, which I think is a valid point.
Zaine, you've got a very valid point. There's no sense in throwing money away if you don't have to. I do think that the larger issue is one of having software that is open and free as in freedom though.
Still, if it costs more to train people with other software, then you're still worse off. If your maintenance costs are higher, again, worse off. I think it depends a lot on what software it is. But if you can get away with free, then hey, all the better.
When it comes to MS Office, it's hard to get around it. It's used across every industry and everyone needs to interoperate with it. If other office suites had better support for MS Office documents, there would be more realistic options. Last I checked though, that support wasn't there to the degree needed.
It's still kind of a bad situation.
The government makes a lot of the problems for itself though. The runaway insanity in the patent office is a large part of the problem. With a lot of FOSS you don't get any kind of indemnification, so if there's a patent violation, you're an open target. This is a large part of the problem for a lot of companies. The government has fostered an environment of fear of litigation.
I remember licensing some software to IBM, and they needed additional clauses in the license agreement because of that.
I don't know how those problems can be solved. There's really no practical reason for not adopting a lot of FOSS software or freeware.