OMB’s 3rd policy memo in a week targets software purchasing

The Office of Management and Budget’s busy week continued Thursday with its third policy memo in the last seven days.

Along with a draft data consolidation guidance and a final mandate for every agency to set up a Buyers Club for innovative acquisitions, OMB now is taking aim at the software that runs in those data centers and is bought by those procurement experts.

Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott released a draft open source software policy March 10 with a goal of reducing duplicative purchases and taking advantage of industry best practices.

“This policy will require new software developed specifically for or by the federal government to be made available for sharing and re-use across federal agencies. It also includes a pilot program that will result in a portion of that new federally-funded custom code being released to the public,” Scott wrote in a blog post. “It also includes a pilot program that will result in a portion of that new federally-funded custom code being released to the public.”

Scott said by encouraging more agencies to use open source, the policy also promotes cost savings and innovation. OMB estimated agencies spend $9 billion a year on all software.

“This policy is consistent with the federal government’s long-standing policy of technology neutrality through which we seek to ensure that federal investments in IT are merit-based, improve the performance of our government, and create value for the American people,” Scott wrote.

OMB said in its smarter IT delivery cross-agency priority goal fiscal 2015 fourth quarter update that it had wanted to release the open source policy by December. The White House initially committed to developing an open source software policy when it released updates to the second open government plan in September 2014.

This is the second time OMB tried to emphasize the use of open source software. Back in 2004, Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT, and Rob Burton, associate administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, issued a memo addressing how agencies bought software. While that memo wasn’t specifically about open source, OMB did remind agencies about how the licensing of open source software works.

The use of open source across government has been growing over the last decade. But it has been more on an agency by agency basis versus a coordinated approach led by OMB.

For example, the General Services Administration established a policy in 2014 calling for open source software to be considered first before proprietary apps.

The Defense Department also issued an open source policy in 2003 and updated it in 2009.

David Egts,  chief technologist for U.S. public sector for Red Hat, said the memo is a welcomed addition to the lengthy federal participation in the open source community.

“Nobody is smarter than everybody, and the federal government can take advantage of this too,” Egts said in an email to Federal News Radio. “By developing applications as open source, federal agencies can share code between other federal agencies, local agencies, agencies from other governments, and also individual citizens around the world.  This isn’t a dream it’s reality.”

Other agencies also are looking to open source software first, such as the Customs and Border Protection Directorate within the Homeland Security Department.

With the growing momentum, OMB wants comments on the draft policy around considerations for buying software, how best to resuse governmentwide code and how best to address federally funded custom code for reuse.

OMB also wants to create pilot program where agencies must release at least 20 percent of its newly developed custom code each year.

“When deciding which custom code projects to release, each covered agency should prioritize the release of custom code that it considers potentially useful to the broader community,” the draft policy stated. “Please note that this requirement refers to new code that is developed by third party developers or vendors on behalf of a covered agency, as opposed to code developed by federal employees as part of their official duties.”

As part of the pilot, OMB will create a repository called Project Open Source within 90 days of the policy becoming final.

“Project Open Source will evolve over time as a community resource to facilitate the adoption of good custom source code development and release practices,” OMB said in the draft policy. “Guidance and language on open source licenses will be provided as part of Project Open Source. The repository will include further definitions, evaluation metrics, checklists, case studies, model contract language and more, and will enable collaboration across the federal government in partnership with the public.”

Additionally, agency CIOs must update or create internal policies to reflect the open source software guidance within three months of the policy becoming final. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the U.S. Digital Services Office also will update the TechFAR to highlight how “agencies can go about securing federal reuse rights and open source licenses as part of their acquisitions processes.”

OMB already received four comments on the policy in the first few hours it was open. Comments are due by April 11.

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