Over the past week or two, there have been several announcements about open source use within the United States Government. The one getting the most attention is the announcement about whitehouse.gov moving to Drupal; however, I think that the memo from the Department of Defense (DoD): Clarifying Guidance on Open Source Software is a much more important and interesting story. The guidance in the memo doesn't give preferential treatment to open source software (OSS), but it does clarify some misconceptions about how open source can be used to meet government needs, and it helps to ensure that open source software is given appropriate consideration along with any proprietary solutions being evaluated. According to Jim Stogdill on the O'Reilly Radar blog, "the memo is intended to clear up common misconceptions and make it easier for DoD program managers to include OSS in their programs. Its goals are to improve agility, eliminate lock in, and reduce cost." In other words, open source is one of the many possible choices available when the government is evaluating software needs.
Here are a few highlights from the report:
- Open source software meets the definition of "commercial computer software" and can be used within the government.
- Executive agencies are required to conduct market research before making software purchases, and the research should include any open source software that meets the needs of the mission.
- Positive aspects of open source software should be considered (peer reviewed code, unrestricted ability to modify the code, reduced vendor lock-in, etc.)
- Software fixes and enhancement should be released to the public when possible, but it is not a requirement to release changes back to the public except in specific licensing situations.
Open Source analyst Jay Lyman at The 451 Group said that "this is a model for government and enterprise end users to use for determining where open source software best fits into their organizations." He went on to talk about how "the memo and reaction to it represent something larger in adoption of open source software, not only by the U.S. DoD and among other governments around the globe, but also including enterprises and even SMB users: the official embrace of open source."
The memo was written by David M. Wennergren, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Information Management and Technology / Deputy Chief Information Officer US Department of Defense, and he will be keynoting the upcoming GOSCON event in Washington, D. C. on November 5th if you want to learn more about this announcement or discuss other uses of open source in government.