CEOs seek review of government applications

Backers of open-source software asked President Barack Obama to make it mandatory for federal agencies to consider how applications purchased by the government are developed. The request came in a letter from the Collaborative Software Initiative and others sent to Obama today.

“We urge you to make it mandatory to consider the source of an application solution (open or closed) as part of the government’s technology acquisition process, just as considering accessibility by the handicapped is required today,” the letter stated

The letter said the open and collaborative way that open-source software is developed mirrors Obama’s goals of government transparency and openness. Collaborative Software Initiative Senior Developer David Christiansen and Chief Executive Officer Stuart Cohen, along with 14 CEOs of software development companies, signed the letter.

Open-source software is already widely used by the military and intelligence agencies, said Paul Jones, an information science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Software developers are not likely to get an exclusive open-source mandate, he said.

“In some cases, open-source, or at the very least open formats, should be required so that the software, procedures...can be audited,” Jones said. “For archiving purposes, and for Freedom of Information Act purposes, software source and format definitions should be at minimum placed in escrow.”

Some agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, require that research databases be made open and accessible to other researchers after a certain period, Jones said. Although the requirement is not specifically for open-source, the easiest way to comply with the mandate to select an open-source application, he said.

“That said, open-source solutions probably should compete on their merits, which are many,” Jones said.

Open source reduces costs in area such as application hosting and development, the letter stated, adding that the Obama administration should consider open-source software in its effort to standardize and digitize medical records.

“We also believe in the critical role of open-source software to create the applications and infrastructure necessary to support electronic medical records and other government-funded technology projects,” the letter stated.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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