It’s about time. Today, July 22nd, Open Source for America, a coalition of more than 60 organizations joined together to advocate open source in the U.S. federal government launched. This comes after decades of Microsoft spending millions every year to encourage the government to buy Microsoft’s proprietary software.
Open Source for America, which includes industry leaders such as Red Hat, Google, Novell, and Oracle in its membership, is meant to provide, according to the group’s statement, a “unified voice to help effect change in U.S. Federal Government policies and practices to allow the federal government to better utilize open source software for cost efficiency, security and enhanced performance. ”
The alliance will spell out to the the U.S. federal government that open-source software will provide an “an open, transparent and cost-effective option for government agencies” to deliver services to citizens. With an economy that on the rocks, encouraging the government to move to open-source software makes a good deal of sense.
Indeed, the Federal government has long relied on open-source software long before that phrase even appeared. When I worked at NASA, for example in the mid-80s, financial circumstances already made sure we used free software. For example, the popular Beowulf Linux clustering software got its start at Goddard Space Flight Center due to necessity and used COTS (Commercial, off-the-shelf) computers. Thus, Open Source for America is formalizing support for a do-it-yourself approach that government technology workers have long taken.
As Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat’s CEO wrote in a blog, “Open source provides an answer to government agencies at all levels as they look for opportunities to carve out IT costs, improve security and increase efficiency.” Exactly.
According to the organization’s press release, “the mission of Open Source for America is to serve as a centralized advocate and to encourage broader U.S. Federal Government support of and participation in free and open source software. Specifically, Open Source for America will: help effect change in policies and practices to allow the Federal Government to better utilize these technologies; help coordinate these communities to collaborate with the federal government on technology requirements; and raise awareness and create understanding among federal government leaders about the values and implications of open source software. ”
This isn’t just a corporate lobbying effort though, The organization’s Board of Advisors of includes respected well-known open-source lawyers, Eben Moglen and Andy Updegrove and community leaders like Stormy Peters of the GNOME Foundation and Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation. The group’s founding membership list is a who’s who of open-source companies, organizations, and groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which rely on open-source software to further their own mission.
David Thomas, principal with Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, a Washington DC lobbying group and spokesman for the Open Source for America campaign, said in a statement “Open Source for America is bringing together some of the industry’s brightest minds, who will work together with policymakers and the public so that technologies enabled by the software freedoms can help make government IT deployment more secure, more cost-effective, faster to deploy, with greater privacy and the ability to help eliminate vendor lock-in. Open source software may not be a cure-all, but it could save billions of dollars, help foster innovation and empower our government to work smarter. ”
Thomas concluded, “Open source software can help deliver improved government service – plain and simple – and the Administration recognizes this more than any in our nation’s history”