Open Source Government: SoftwareTech news

David Wheeler kindly suggested me to read the last number of the DoD Software Tech news – a periodic published by the Data & Analysis Center for Software – entitled “Open Source – The future is Open” (registration required), and it really worths reading.

David WheelerDavid Wheeler by swhisher

Before talking about why FAR, the Federal Acquisition Regulation, demands agencies to look at open source software when procuring software, I wish to report Gen. Charles Croom priority list for how DISA – the Defense Information Systems Agency – will acquire technologies and capabilities in the future. Defined by the acronym “ABC”, as explained below:

The “A” on that list stands for adopt. The general maintains that his agency will do what it can to take advantage of past investments by adopting both what is in the marketplace and what is in the U.S. Defense Department inventory. This approach is at the heart of providing network connectivity to the warfighter.

The “B” is for buy. If the agency cannot adopt something already on the shelf, then it will go to the marketplace and buy what is needed. While this lacks the economic savings of using what is at hand, it nonetheless takes advantage of the efficiency in commercial developments.

If neither A nor B can help DISA carry out its mission, then the agency will employ its “C”—create. Only if all other avenues fail to produce the needed goods or services will the agency generate its own customized solution.

In terms of the “A,” DOD is a large-scale adopter of Open Source as results from what observed Brigadier General Nick Justice, the Deputy Program Officer for the Army’s Program Executive Office, Command, Control and Communications Tactical:

Open source software is part of the integrated network fabric which connects and enables our command and control system to work effectively, as people’s lives depend on it. When we rolled into Baghdad, we did it using open source.

With respect to the “B,” Chuck Reichers, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and Management, said:

We want to pay for unique intellectual property when it’s best of breed, but not succumb to code and vendor-specific lock-in situations. Acquisition of proprietary solutions needs to be a conscience choice, not an assumption.

Last but not least the “C,” with the living example of the Navy’s SHARE (Software, Hardware Asset Reuse Enterprise) repository. James Shannon, program manager for future combat systems open architecture, observed:

But the fact that today we are putting systems that were solely owned or thought to be solely owned by other companies and the fact we have shared them with other companies, I will tell you OA (open architecture) has arrived. We are definitely working to change our Navy business model and we are seeing industry change their business models as a result.

I am among them thinking that Open Source software shouldn’t be mandatory, but at the same extent I firmly believe that Open Source has to have an official seat at every Public Administration table.

Getting back to the FAR issue, considering that the FAR requires government agencies to conduct market research to determine if commercial items or non-developmental items are available, Wheeler wrote that:

An agency that fails to consider OSS options is in direct violation of the FAR, because it would be failing to consider commercial items.
Another reason that most extant OSS is commercial is because U.S. law says so. U.S. Code Title 17, section 101 defines “financial gain” as including “receipt, or expectation of receipt, of anything of value, including the receipt of other copyrighted works.” Most OSS projects are specifically established to encourage others to contribute improvements (which are copyrighted works), a form of financial gain and thus commercial.

I keep citing David’s work because it is really important that people get acquainted with the idea that “Commercial is not the opposite of Free-Libre / Open Source Software“, hence the name of my blog: Commercial Open Source.

The Software Tech News is published quarterly by the Data & Analysis Center for Software (DACS). The DACS is a DoD sponsored Information Analysis Center (IAC), administratively managed by the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC). The DACS is technically managed by Air Force Research Laboratory, Rome, NY and operated by ITT, Advanced Engineering and Sciences Division.

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