by Swapnil Bhartiya

The White House opens its doors to open source

Mar 11, 2016
GovernmentOpen Source

The Obama administration is seeking public comments on its open source policy. rn

As someone who covers open source extensively I am constantly (and happily) amazed how widespread open source has become — from industry to governments of some of the most powerful countries.

Yesterday the Obama administration released for public comment a draft Federal Source Code policy to support improved access to custom software code. The US government is inviting comments on the draft especially around “considerations regarding the release of custom code as OSS.” From the policy document:

This policy requires that, among other things: (1) new custom code whose development is paid for by the Federal Government be made available for reuse across Federal agencies; and (2) a portion of that new custom code be released to the public as Open Source Software (OSS).

“The U.S. Government is confirming a truth that the tech industry has been building upon for two decades: open source software and development result in more innovation more quickly,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation, in an email. “This is how today’s most most cutting-edge and critical infrastructure is being built. We are happy to see the government take another step towards transparency and efficiency through its use of open source and are looking forward to our next steps on the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, in which the Core Infrastructure Initiative and the White House will be working together to better secure Internet utilities through openness.”

Saving taxpayer dollars

Tony Scott, Federal CIO of the US government mentioned one of the strengths of open source – cost saving.

Scott wrote on the White House blog that the US government “can save taxpayer dollars by avoiding duplicative custom software purchases and promote innovation and collaboration across Federal agencies.

“We will also enable the brightest minds inside and outside of government to review and improve our code, and work together to ensure that the code is secure, reliable, and effective in furthering our national objectives,” Scott wrote.

This move is also aimed at becoming increasingly vendor neutral:

This policy is consistent with the Federal Government’s long-standing policy of technology neutrality through which we seek to ensure that Federal investments in IT are merit-based, improve the performance of our Government, and create value for the American people.

Shift from closed source to open source

As the world is shifting towards vendor neutral open source technologies, traditional proprietary companies are feeling the heat and releasing their developer tools as open source and so, too, is the U.S. government. Scott said, “Today, the Federal Government is already building some of our most important projects using open source, and more are launching all the time.”

As someone who has been covering open source for such a long time, I am pleased to see open source becoming the norm. Of course, the downside of becoming the norm is that no one will be talking about it at some point, which wouldn’t do great things for my career. I recall my interview with Cloud Foundry CEO, Sam Ramji who said he thought that ten, maybe twenty years from now we might not even have a phrase for open source, because we will just say “software.”

Exciting times ahead.

If you have a comment to make on the draft, go ahead and post your thoughts here.