US Government Now Has An Official Open Source Software Policy

from the about-time dept

Earlier this year, we noted that the federal government was looking to further embrace open source software in its process of contracting out for (or creating in house) code. It released a draft policy which was good, though we hoped the final product would be much stronger (for example, it pushed for a portion of any code to be released under an open source license, but didn’t consider that to be the default. I was also concerned about it allowing software developed by federal government employees to be locked up by a license — something that I’m pretty sure is not allowed, since works created by federal government employees are automatically in the public domain.

On Monday, the White House’s Chief Information Officer, Tony Scott, revealed the finalized official “Federal Source Code” policy, and you can read the whole thing. Because the original was posted to GitHub, you can also easily see what’s changed. On top of that, as part of this, the government also launched a new site at, which will act as a repository for open source code from the government.

Much of the focus of the policy, understandably, is on enabling reuse of code within the government, so that different agencies and departments aren’t reinventing the wheel (and paying hundreds of millions of dollars) for projects that others are already working on. Lots of people and agencies weighed in on the draft proposal, including some interesting/surprising ones. Homeland Security, of all organizations, worried that simply pushing government agencies to release 20% of their software as open source, without understanding how that might be most useful to the wider community, would be a waste. It preferred pushing government agencies to refactor code into reusable modules, with a focus on what would be the most reusable. Others, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau favored (as I suggested) a default open source policy, rather than the 20% solution.

Unfortunately, the plan sticks with this “pilot program” of only having to open source 20% of code, and how well that works will be evaluated over time. It appears to have “fixed” the problem of lumping in-house developed code into the policy (since that code is public domain) by now focusing the policy solely on custom developed code by third parties (at least that’s my read on the new policy). While it’s still disappointing that the policy didn’t move to a “default to open source absent a compelling interest” standard, at least it didn’t go in the other direction either. And that’s in the face of complaints from the likes of the Software Alliance (a major Microsoft lobbying group) that whined about the need for such a policy in the first place.

In the end, this looks like a good step forward. It could have gone much farther, but it’s still a step in the right direction. Hopefully the pilot program will lead to even bigger steps towards embracing more open source (and public domain!) software.

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Comments on “US Government Now Has An Official Open Source Software Policy”

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Anarres (profile) says:

Don't be too sure...

I was also concerned about it allowing software developed by federal government employees to be locked up by a license — something that I’m pretty sure is not allowed, since works created by federal government employees are automatically in the public domain.

Actually, as we speak, US is looking to exactly add a “contract-based” license for government-developed code, apparently hoping to obtain through contract what it doesn’t have via copyright: some restrictions:

On the bright side, the “restrictions” in this case are negligible, since it’s an apache-like license.

The more important point, it seems to me, is that US gov appears to believe that a contract-based “license” for public domain code should have some teeth, going as far as potentially stopping use of the public domain code at all, if one breaks it.

That can’t be right. And it would be bad policy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Don't be too sure...

Later version of the same license:

Looks to me (IANAL) they’re trying to add some limited copyright provisions & restrictions for territories where the legal notion of “public domain” is unclear.

Skeeter says:

So, it's that simple?

So, what this article is saying, is that after over 30-years of being DEEPLY in bed with Microsoft and its hoarding of source code (and all that hidden malware), the government is returning to the open-source concept of UNIX, and thus, the GPL ideology of Linux?

Imagine that. Of course, they’re only 30-years too late, but this also points a strong finger at two likely future events:

1. Microsoft will no longer exist in its current form (time to offer the software-Baphomet up to the altar)

2. Linux will now become lice-infested with all those malware spy-trojans (from their respective PPA’s) that previously, you could only count on from Microsoft (here comes Big-NSA-Brother, Linux).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So, it's that simple?

so win win?

As long as I can install a clean version of Linux, fine. They can louse that sumbitch up as much as they want!

That is really besides the point, I am more concerned that hardware manufactures will be forced at (gunpoint in secret aka NSL) to load backdoors directly on the boards completely bypassing the OS.

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