White House wants more sharable, reusable code

Federal CIO Tony Scott is pushing out a plan to allow custom code developed by or for the government to be shared across agencies, and in some cases released to the public.

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The White House is looking to make software code used by the federal agencies more open, sharable and reusable. In a March 10 blog post, federal CIO Tony Scott announced a new draft Federal Source Code policy that would create a new set of rules for custom code developed by or for the federal government.

Once the new policy takes effect, software developed at agencies or created by contractors specifically for government use will be available to share and reuse across agencies.

The new policy also includes a pilot that would result in "a portion of that new federally funded custom code being released to the public."

The move makes good (slightly late) on a pledge from the Second Open Government National Action Plan to put out a federal open source software policy, to "support improved access to custom software code developed for the Federal government." That action plan was released in September 2014.

There have been other developments in the direction of open source since the plan was published. The U.S. Digital Services Playbook calls for a "default to open" policy in software design.  The goal here, as with the new White House policy, is to "allow the public to contribute easily, and enable reuse by entrepreneurs, nonprofits, other agencies, and the public."

Scott's blog post sites examples of recent government digital development using open source, including the College Scorecard, the sexual assault survivor site NotAlone.gov and the federal website analytics tracker built by the General Services Administration.

GSA came out with its "open source first" policy in August 2014. Sonny Hashmi, then the CIO of GSA, wrote, "we believe that all code we developed should be shared under an open license so others may benefit from it. In addition, we will give priority to using open source software as we design now solutions."

Scott believes that the policy will save taxpayer funds "by avoiding duplicative custom software purchases and promote innovation and collaboration across Federal agencies." Additionally, releasing software to the public for review and improvement will add stability, reliability, and security to the tools powered by the code, Scott said.

According to Scott, the new policy also is in keeping with the government's practice of "technology neutrality" that requires acquisitions and investments to be based on the merits of the proposal. However, it is not inconceivable that some in the vendor community will have contrary views to share on that score during the policy's 30-day comment period.

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