US Federal Government's open source policy

Since I work in the public sector, I’m naturally interested in how governments are adopting open source… So I’ve been watching the US Federal government’s initiative on open source that resulted in Essentially, this memo from the end of the Obama administration outlines a trial program that requires all Federal agencies to release at least 20% of their code as open source over the course of the next three years.

I came across it by way of a US EPA memo that outlines how the EPA will approach it.

There’s some interesting points in it. First off, the metric for 20% is vaguely defined.

  1. The metric for 20% is vaguely defined, but must be “consistent”

  2. The chief goal is to encourage sharing and reuse of code across Federal agencies.

  3. Guidance on licenses is minimal. All agencies “shall append appropriate OSS licenses to the source code.”

  4. There’s a significant focus on being involved in OSS communities (the words community / communities show up 20 times in the 15-page memo, the latter half of it being devoted to OSS (see section 5).

  5. I had expected to see a largely “read-only” OSS policy, but it appears community contributions are part of the OSS goals.

  6. Code which risks naitonal safety, agency operations, agency employees, etc. is, naturally, exempt from release.

  7. Procurement requires open source and commercial software share a level playing field. Interstingly, the EPA memo suggests that the EPA is adopting an “open source first” policy - OSS is considered before (not alongside) commercial solutions.

So I took a look at and noted:

  1. Top 3 OSS releasers were the Department of Energy, General Services Administration, and NASA (1000-2000 projects each). Dept. of Defense and NSA came in at an embarrassing 13 and 29 projects.

  2. Of the 4,966 repositories, only 957 had any license at all (one had the Unlicense), despite the White House memo explicitly requiring licenses on every project.

The last point really bugs me. I gave an hour presentation at the Ohio Linux Fest in October on open source in engineering (here, if anyone’s really interested in that), and addressed this issue explicitly. I think it’s really critical where taxpayer funding is involved, that governments work really hard to ensure OSS licensing is consistent and protects the public interest. Which more or less means the GPL on everything. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I suppose it’s encouraging to see the Feds doing this… They’re trying, anyway.

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Yes very encouraging to see. I hope more local governments get motivated by this as well.

I guess the DoE and NASA are at the top simply because they are involved in so many research projects with partners all around the globe. Don’t forget that the DoE runs the 17 national laboratories in the US, including Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore, and is therefore the main driving force behind most supercomputer installments in the US. The DoE pretty much lives in an open source world anyways, so it probably wasn’t that hard for them.

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