US Gov Memo Spells Out Open Source Inclusion in Federal Acquisition

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”.

GOSCON 2008 Keynote Slides

Click to Download 2008 GOSCON Keynote Presso


The Year of Open Government: Who’s Making it So?

goscon_notsite_300I’m going to GOSCON 2010 – the Government Open Source Conference – of course, and as conference chair I hope I’ll see you there too.

We’re back in Portland Oregon this fall.  Visit the web site for news, conference program, speaker line up, and registration.

So you ask me, what’s hot this year?  One thing for certain; following the Obama Administration’s Open Government Directive, state and local governments have turned to the Swiss Army knife of open technology tools to crack open up government data for the sake of transparency and to unleash innovation in some of the most unexpected ways.

We’re gathering an amazing group of city, state, county and federal leadership to sharing their stories and successes, expose and debate the challenges. Great break-out sessions on what government is doing, and most exciting, the growing civic engagement movements in government IT like Civic Commons and others.  Deep discussions in the hallways.  Interactive panels. Lively debates in the after hours of Portland’s great pubs and eateries.

We’re partnering with the Seattle non-profit  Knowledge As Power  and the OpenGovWest folks this year and hosting an Open Data Summit.

We’re launching a first ever IgniteGov event smack in the middle of GOSCON, to gather the public service/civic advocacy/transparency/community crowd for a fast-paced and fun exchange of ideas.

And much more.  Check out the web site, and help us spread the word.  Here’s the Digest version:

Event: The Government Open Source Conference (GOSCON 2010)
Web Site: http://goscon.org
Dates: October 26, Open Data Summit, October 27-28, GOSCON
Topics: Role of open source software and collaboration enabling leading Open Government and Transparency initiatives throughout the US. Open technology strategy, policy, acquisitions, operations, organizational readiness, exemplary projects and use case are covered in breakout sessions.  Executive Open Data Round table includes state, city and federal leadership. Open Data Summit on gathers government, civic, and technology interests to collaborate on standards issue.
Intended Audience: Pubic Sector CIOs, IT Directors, Infrastructure and Development Mangers, Contract Managers, Data Managers, Enterprise Architects, IT Policy Advisers, Public Information Officers, Public Administrators with responsibility for information technology strategy.  Internal gov2.0 evangelists will also benefit from the program.

Location: The Nines Hotel, 525 SW Morrison, Portland, Oregon 97204

Registration:    Government and non-profits, $195 until October 18, $250 thereafter, Corporate $295 until October 18, $375 thereafter (includes all sessions, exhibits, conference meals, and materials.

Conference Organizers: Oregon State University Open Source Lab osuosl.org

Open Source and the NextGen Health Care IT Community

govlooplogoAs Featured on GovLoop

I spend a fair amount of time at Open Source conferences. I arrive with a government bias plus some of the great ideas that open source enables like transparency and open government. Although most panels/sessions/talks/round tables will eventually get around to the idea of education and work force training, I rarely see anyone responsible for actually delivering or receiving that training at these events.

posscon_logo_transI recently participated in POSSCON, the 3rd annual Palmetto Open Source Software Convention, hosted in South Carolina capitol city of Columbia. My experience with this community was inspiring and I think it can serve as a lesson for many.

During an executive panel discussion the moderator, Matt Asay, asked me to give an example of a government open source project. I described (in layman’s terms) the information challenge in health care, the increasing use of open-standards and open source, and its potential to improve interoperability in health care systems. I also cited the U.S. Health and Human Services’ CONNECT project as a great example of using the open source development and community methodology.

Afterward I was approached by several people who told me “We really couldn’t get what the panel was talking about until you started talking about open source and Health IT as a real example – then we got it.” Open source had little tangible value to this group until it was described in context. What is the impact to a patient when their health care records are incomplete? When their information is scattered between physicians, pharmacies, immediate care centers, rest homes, dentists offices, and hospital emergency rooms? When those systems are not designed to work together? When they understand how open source can help solve these problems, they “get it.”

Twenty students from the South Carolina Rehabilitation Center were there. Their stories were impressive. One student’s career as an LVN had ended with an accident so she was retraining in health information technology. I introduced her to a medical clinic open source entrepreneur from Atlanta that was going to need subject matter expert. Another student’s goal was to open a shelter for homeless vets. We talked about Virginia’s Veteran’s Affairs open-API community portal work – where the community of veterans help an understaffed VA get through paperwork and identify resources for returning vets. She’s now interested in doing the same thing in South Carolina. A third student with a degree in Health Informatics learned about HHS’ electronic health record project, CONNECT. Every discussion included opportunities to leverage open source, and a great desire to improve people’s lives.

The opportunity for open source in health IT is immediately apparent in every niche of that industry. I recently learned my own dentist used open source software to run his clinic! In government, we see this opportunity in the Health and Human Services’ national health information network architecture, in the National Cancer Institute’s research, the way the Social Security Administration handles sensitive health records, and the way the Veteran’s Administration runs hospitals. In a clinical setting, state and local government can expect citizens to be better served through Electronic Health Records services and improved patient care — particularly for under-served communities. The most exciting development is with Personal Health Records, consumer-based patient-centric information that will empower individuals to master their own health care (a topic for another post).

Back to the event itself; interdisciplinary and cross-industry events can be tricky to make successful but can be super-conductors for innovation. The challenge is that different audiences have varying interests and attention spans. Blended audiences, especially Columbia’s with representation from education, business, government and technology, need facilitation if interaction is the goal. POSSCON organizers did a great job of building a strong program that had something for everyone and in a format designed to converge everyone’s interests. POSSCON was a great example of how valuable face-to-face events such as this can be, even though collaboration can be happening every day virtually. Having everyone in a room is critical to inspiring, coalescing, creating and sustaining motion.

I once read that the complexity of today’s problems can only be solved by teams of people who do not naturally work together. Open source software and the kind of thinking and collaboration used to create it provides a framework to solve some of the thorniest and most interesting problems around. I think POSSCON is a wonderful example of this in bringing industry, government and education together under one well-pitched big tent.

Open Source Lab Inside Story at OSBC March 18th

OSBC_bannerMy executive hero and Oregon State University Open Source Lab (OSU OSL) visionary Curt Pederson will be doing a talk about the OSL at this week’s Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.  If you’re going to be at OSBC drop by and thank Curt for his critical role in making the case for the creation of the OSL six years ago.  The dedicated staff and students at the OSL have created a world-class home for dozens of important open source communites like the Linux Foundation, Apache Foundation, Drupal, Gentoo Foundation, Debian Linux and many more.

Curt is a fantastic supporter of open Collaboration and loves to share the inside story of the Lab. He’ll be speaking Thursday March 18th at 4 p.m., here’s the abstract:

Inside the Open Source Lab
Curt Pederson, Vice Provost and CIO, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

Oregon State University has emerged as one or the global leaders in the expanding “open source” movement and an integral part of a growing Oregon movement in support of community based innovation and collaboration. From Oregon resident Linus Torvalds and Governor Kulongoski to the student employees working in the Open Source Lab (OSL), we have a very unique open climate for doing leading edge research, teaching and business in Oregon and beyond.

Curt Pederson will describe Oregon State University’s role in today’s emerging “open ecosystem” and how the OSL has gone from being a spectator to having one of the largest host sites of open source applications and community Linux releases in the world. Curt will also discuss the overall ROI that OSU has obtained by using open source tools versus other commercial solutions.

Federal Agency Co-Op CENDI Issues FAQ including Open Source Software

Vicki E. Allums, Associate General Counsel for Intellectual Property at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) will join GOSCON this week  to discuss  a document released today by CENDI, a cooperative of the major Federal science, technology and information centers.  The document titled “Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright and Computer Software: Issues Affecting the U.S. Government with Special Emphasis on Open Source Software”, its principal authors from Defense Information Systems Agency and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is expected to serve as a useful resource as federal agencies increasingly adopt the use of open source software in their IT architectures.

Allums will walk attendees thought the new document including:

  • US Government policy guidance regarding use of Open Source Software (OSS)
  • Issues unique to federal agencies distributing OSS
  • OSS copyright licensing and contractual considerations for the US Government
  • Advantages and Disadvantages to federal agencies using OSS as an alternative to proprietary technologies.

Hope you can join me at GOSCON this week and not miss these important milestones in the evolution of information technology within the US Government.