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The U.S. government asks its agencies to consider open-source software

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August 9, 2016

The United States' chief information officer Tony Scott and his chief acquisition officer Anne Rung have issued a joint memo decreeing that from now on, all U.S. government agencies need to seriously consider open-sourcing the various software that they commission.

Issued yesterday, the memo notes some code-sharing across the government but says it's not done “in a consistent manner”.

“In some specific cases, various government agencies may even have difficulty establishing that the software was produced in the performance of a Federal Government contract,” the memo continues, which can lead to “duplicative acquisitions for substantially similar code and an inefficient utilization of the taxpayer's money”.

The newly proposed rules therefore implement a 3-year pilot project during which U.S. government agencies will be required to open source about 22 to 25 percent of their customized code.

As you'd might expect, all security agencies are exempt from the new policy. The newly proposed rules also call for any customized development effort to “acquire and enforce specific rights sufficient to enable a government-wide reutilization of customized software.”

There's also a new requirement to keep an up-to-date inventory of the code and to lodge open source code at code.gov.

In other specific areas, the new policy suggests that when sharing customized code, agencies should engage with existing communities whenever possible, rather than trying to create their own.

There's even a section 5.2.F in which government agencies are encouraged to ready themselves for code contributions from third parties within and also outside the government, creating the potential for citizen coders to help build government apps.

The memo also insists that whenever agencies need new software they must consider “whether to use an existing federal software solution or to acquire or develop a new software solution.”

Various agencies must also consider whether it is possible to get what they need by mixing government and commercial code when and wherever possible.

Similar policies have been recently noticed at other governments around the world, often accompanied by the concept of a government app store, so the United States isn't alone in this new initiative.

The memo's authors hope that the agencies do as well. The 22 to 25 percent target is suggested as a minimum and “agencies are strongly encouraged to release as much custom-developed software as possible to further the Federal Government's commitment to transparency, participation, and collaboration.”

But of course, the huge size of the U.S. government means that the concept has just levelled up a couple of notches. It will be interesting to read the various upcoming comments, objections or questions coming from those U.S. agencies. We'll keep you posted.

Source: The U.S. Government

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