First the musings: Because I’ve been involved with open source adoption in Government nearly since Al Gore invented the Internet, I get a lot of questions about what the White House is thinking about Open Source. Joking aside, this has been present on people’s minds since the new administration took office. For those familiar with some of the appointees’ backgrounds, there was a hope that open source software would play larger role in Federal IT.* People got very excited when the White House web site moved to Drupal. I thought it cool too, and accepted that as a sign of more flexible thinking. At the same time, having run a technology policy office (at the state level) earlier in my career, I understood that moving a web site to an open source Content Management System did not constitute a major break-through in a complex IT acquisition environment where the greatest savings and efficiencies remain in larger investments in software development for systems unique (if not common within) government.
On to the news: Yesterday’s United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo entitled “Technology Neutrality” and signed by the US Chief Information Officer Viveck Kundra is a balanced and inclusive expression of options the feds should consider when procuring information technology.
“…agencies should analyze alternatives that include proprietary, open source, and mixed source technologies. This allows the Government to pursue the best strategy to meet its particular needs.”
Even with its quiet Friday release, it has been reasonably well-covered by the press, along with a bit of speculation about “why now”. You can check out some of the coverage at NextGov TechInsider, GovFresh, and FedRadio. Classically, the new media folks touched on implications for open source while Fed Radio’s take on the memo was “a reminder not to use brand names in their procurements.”
I’ll just take this as a win for a more balanced view, now institutionalized as advice to Federal CIOs.
What’s next? I want to hear more about how the GSA may use use an open source cloud solution for that new forge.gov project. We all have our wish lists, that one is high on mine.
* Viveck Kundra and Aneesh Chopra had extensive experience with open source in their respective roles prior to joining the Obama administration. See Kundra’s GOSCON 2008 Keynote presentation “Open Source as a way of Life”.