By Chelsea Dicus
Information sharing is good! Or maybe it’s bad? Perhaps, like everything, it depends on the situation and can have some murky areas. One example is open source technology, which TCG incorporates into most of our projects. We do this for various reasons, including:
- Open source code is free! Who doesn’t like free? Especially when the cost savings transfers to the government, which in turn saves taxpayers money. We all win!
- It’s already been generated so developers don’t need to waste time creating the same thing, which means time savings.
- The developer community has probably put that open source code through the wringer and helped work out various kinks along the way.
- Developers are aware of open source and can leverage multiple resources for incorporation for their own use, meaning less time looking for answers and less need for expensive specialties.
- Agencies and developers have the flexibility to build products without the restrictions set by proprietary software.
But let’s take things in context too. Open source is great, and no one is disagreeing with that (if you do, let’s talk about it!). Online development communities are vibrant and help staff grow personally and professionally. But government and its contractors have been slow to open to these sources (pun intended) of benefits.
For years, ownership over niche products or source code provided a vital edge for companies to retain a hold over certain systems and work. Agencies had to rely on one vendor to support large chunks of work, and decisions were made based on known quantities rather than other, potentially better choices. The government has rights to all the code that contractors develop on the taxpayer’s dime, so you’d think it’d be natural for agencies to share like crazy. But dissemination of information and interagency sharing didn’t always happen. Though not the end of the world, this wasted precious government resources and has resulted in a lot of people doing the same work across the federal spectrum. We at TCG cringe at the thought.
Recently, the Federal Chief Information Officer and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) backed a policy encouraging agencies to capitalize on existing source code. This pilot program “requires agencies, when commissioning new custom software, to release at least 20% of new custom-developed code as Open Source Software (OSS) for three years.” Facilitated on Code.gov, this initiative should help federal agencies leverage existing resources to focus on more important work and customized functions. It will also further emphasize vendors disclosing their source material to the government, making it less risky for agencies to switch contractors and find better value for US taxpayers.
By broadening the repertoire of open source content, the government and contractors get to focus on more innovative or customized solutions to make some amazing products!
To see how TCG successfully used open source software and code to build 99.97% of a collaboration site, check out a case study about the NITRC project.