One point that I did not make sufficiently clear is that the person who instigated the change was not the one who actually carried it out. There were two people involved. One, Official A, who did not have root access, but who managed to persuade another one, Official B, who did have root access but not too much knowledge of Perl, to do the evil did.
To B's credit, the minute that I voiced my objection to the whole thing, he immediately reversed the change with a "what on earth was I thinking???" apology. Yes, it was a major goof, but very uncharacteristic of B. I can only explain it by A's insistence, and the fact that A is somewhat higher up in the food chain than B.
My big argument is with A, who kept advocating for the change and pressuring B to do it, even after B had come back to his senses.