In recent years, the private sector has moved away from proprietary software in favor of open source software and development approaches. For good reason: the open source avenue saves money and development time by using freely available components instead of writing new code, allows new applications to be deployed quickly, and eliminates lockdowns. provider.
However, the federal government has been slower to embrace open source. Change efforts are complicated by the fact that many agencies use large existing infrastructure and IT systems to serve millions of people and are responsible for a plethora of sensitive data. Washington spends tens of billions on IT every year, but with each agency acting essentially as its own business, the decision-making is much more decentralized than it would be in, say, a big bank.
While the government has taken a number of steps in a more open direction in recent years, the history of open source in federal IT has often seemed more about potential than reality.
But there are several indications that this is changing and that the government is reaching its own tipping point for adopting open source. The costs of producing modern apps to serve increasingly digitally savvy citizens keep rising, and agencies are under budget constraints to find ways to improve service while saving taxpayer dollars.
Pure economics dictates an increased role for open source, as do a variety of other benefits. Because its source code is publicly available, open source software encourages continuous review by others outside of the initial development team to promote increased reliability and security of the software, and the code can be easily shared. to be reused by other agencies.
Here are five signs that I see the US government increasingly embracing open source.
More resources dedicated to open source innovation
Two initiatives have gone a long way in helping agencies advance their open source journey.
18F, a team within the General Service Administration that acts as an advisor to help other agencies build digital services, is a strong open source funder. His work included the development of a new application to access data from the Federal Election Commission, as well as software that allowed the GSA to improve its process for recruiting subcontractors.
18F – short for the GSA headquarters address at 1800 F St. – reflects the same basic philosophy that has helped fuel the emergence and momentum of open source in the private sector. “The code we create belongs to the public as part of the public domain,” the group says on its website.
Five years ago in August, the Obama administration introduced a new federal source code policy that called on every agency to take an open source approach, create an inventory of source code, and release at least 20% of written code. in open source. The administration also launched Code.gov, providing agencies with a place to locate open source solutions that other departments are already using.
The results, however, have been mixed. Most agencies are now in line with the federal policy goal, although many still have work to do with implementation, according to the Code.gov tracker. And a report from a Code.gov staff member found that some agencies are adopting open source more than others.
Yet Code.gov claims that the growth of open source within the federal government has gone further than initially expected.
A boost from the new administration
The US bailout, a $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that President Biden signed in early March 2021, contained $ 9 billion for the GSA’s Technology Modernization Fund, which funds new federal technology projects. In January, the White House said upgrading federal IT infrastructure and addressing recent violations such as the SolarWinds hack was “an urgent national security issue that cannot wait.”
It’s fair to assume that open source software will form the basis of many of these efforts, as White House CTO David Recordon is a longtime open source advocate and has previously led the open source projects from Facebook.
An evolving skills environment
Federal IT workers who have spent much of their careers working on legacy systems are starting to retire, and their successors are younger people who have come of age in an open source world and are comfortable with it. this one.
About 81% of private sector hiring managers surveyed by the Linux Foundation said recruiting open source talent is a priority and they are more likely than ever to seek certified professionals. You can be sure that the public sector is increasingly reflecting this trend as it recognizes a need for talent to support the growing uptake of open source.
Strengthened supplier capacities
By partnering with the right commercial open source provider, agencies can reduce infrastructure costs and manage their applications more efficiently. For example, vendors have made great strides in meeting security requirements defined by policies such as the Federal Security Security Modernization Act (FISMA), Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) and the Federal Risk Management and Clearance Program (FedRamp), which makes it easier to deal with compliance.
Additionally, some vendors offer powerful infrastructure automation tools and generous support packages, so federal agencies don’t have to go it alone as they accelerate their open source strategies. Linux distributions like Ubuntu deliver a consistent developer experience from laptop / desktop to cloud, and at the edge, for public clouds, containers, and physical and virtual infrastructures.
This makes application development a well-supported business that includes 24/7 phone and web support, which provides access to world-class corporate support teams through web portals, knowledge bases or by phone.
The pandemic effect
Whether it’s welcoming more employees working from home or responding to increased citizen demand for online services, COVID-19 has forced large swathes of the federal government to improve their digital game. Open source helps move legacy applications to the cloud, develop new applications faster, and adapt IT infrastructures to rapidly changing demands.
As these signs show, the federal government continues to move quickly from talk to action by embracing open source.
Who wins? Everyone!