The problem here also sounds like somebody was trying to use Microsoft Office docs in an older version of Open Office. So they were the ones locking themselves in before, and now their solution for having hassle-free work is to reward Microsoft for it, and lock themselves back in? It's like a drug addict who thinks withdrawing is too painful, so might as well continue taking the drugs.
Yes you can do pretty much anything you need to do in OpenOffice but if you spend a significant amount of time using them then the little bits of polish in MS Office really add up and for a tool you use a lot that's a big deal.
And that goes directly to the budget reasons you mention. As a developer I wanted the best tools for the job, I didn't want the cheapest tool, I wanted the ones that allowed me to be most productive because that saved money. I don't see any reason why my standard as a tax payer should be different - I want people working on my behalf to have the best tools for the job, so they can do the best job for me.
I'd love it if Open Office was as good as MS Office but it isn't and until that changes, it's a bit more complex than you're making out.
It is one persons opinion, are you a recognized authority in usability of desktop applications? Can you provide non-biased large scale research studies with clear and concise points of why MS's solution is better?
Here is my counter point. I have been using office suites since 'Display Write 4' for MS-DOS in the 80s. I have taught classes on advanced document production using open source software. I have converted hundreds of users to Linux and the only complaints I get about office suites are why are MS formats so incompatible with everything else.
For the budget, you're not calculating the entire equation, mate.
You're forgetting how much the time of an employee costs. Let's assume a single user license for Office costs $100 dollars (I'm not sure how much it costs, but I think that's ballpark). Now, if your employee is used to Office Word, and using the more streamlined MS Office provides him with a 0.5% increase in productivity over Open Office, how much money is that each year??
Lets give this guy a yearly salary of $45,000 and calculate 0.5 * 0.01 * 45000 = 225. => 0.5% of his work time is worth $225 each year.
Oh, wow, that MS Office package just paid for itself in less than six months! and that's by estimating only 0.5% work increase. And trust me, a lot of people spend their entire work day using Excel, and having used both Excel and Calc I can GUARANTEE you the increase in productivity is much, much higher than half a percent (for perspective, 0.5% of an 8 hour workday is 2.4 minutes)
Don't forget get this when you're arguing about how to spend taxpayer money. There's a reason why big companies / institutions pay for expensive software; it's actually cheaper in the long run!
In this particular case most of the employees have been working exclusively on OpenOffice for the last 4-5 years. Switching them to MS Office will probably decrease their productivity on top of the cost of the license.
Anyway, they didn't even try to claim that it will save them money. What they claimed was that 20% of their word processing cannot be done with open source tools. I am really curious what kind of word processing they do.