Standards are wonderful
There's so many to choose from. To wit: "XML" is not a single standard. Much of the stuff that ends up encoded in "XML" is only barely "machine readable".
On another note: PDF is not the "visual only" format kable here purports it to be. I'd rather have pdf than excel because I have a much better chance extracting useful data from it. It depends on what you put into it. If it's pictures of scanned pages, then extracting the text is going to be not so very straight-forward. Otherwise, you can just copy-paste it, run it through a filter to get only the text, or what-have-you. It's a format geared for printing, and the specification is open. That last bit is empathically not true of excel sheets.
For XML, it all depends on how well the encoding was done on the XML layer, on the DTD layer, on the content layer, and so on. "XML" by itself is almost entirely meaningless. Much like CSV, only lost more complicatedly so. CSV doesn't establish a minimum level of complexity in libraries and/or external dependencies to just open the file and start to load it. For that reason alone I prefer simple plain text or CSV files over "XML", even before I ended up having to deal with some severely broken IT projects that thought the three letters X, M, and L were going to save the day.
You still need an architecture for your data and a formal specification for your protocols. If you fsck up your XML specification to the point where the colour of the text in your (.doc) specification becomes important for the semantics of your XML-packed data format, and then you forget to clarify both that and what the colours mean, you'd be wisest to shoot down the entire project and start over. And this time, don't outsource these design decisions to the lowest bidder from India. Hire someone comptetent.
Of course they didn't. It was XML, right? That's a magic bullet, right? Well, that was far from the only thing they did wrong. That half-year project is still dead in the water, years hence.
If the government cannot understand the limitations of a well-defined format of PDF, then it cannot be trusted to deal properly with something as nebulous and in need of additional fleshing out as "XML".
This is no surprise: Most real-world XML applications are disasters of unnecessairy complexity. It's just that the complexity sits where it usually doesn't hurt developers much, so they love its convoluted obese and redundant verbosity. As such, it is very much a buzzword for developers as well as project managers. If you like those properties in government, then yes, it is a great fit.