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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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 3, 2009

I am a physician (a trauma surgeon in a rural area, to be exact).

Proprietary companies are too expensive, bar none, and there is little customization that I can do, unless that vendor wishes (or can) do it, or unless i pay an awful lot of extra money.

With open source I can take advantage of other physician's efforts to improve healthcare, instead of having to wade through 300 warring proprietary vendors.

Efficient, co-operative heatlhcare is a priority, not a leisure product like video games.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie, but physicians want something that works and will improve, not a choice between an XBox or a Playstation 3 (or whatever).

Software companies should not dictate how medicine is conducted.

Thu, Mar 19, 2009 JohnnyG Oregon, USA

ANOTHER RUSH JOB - BUY IN HASTE, REGRET AT LEISURE! WHO PROFITS FROM "NO DEVELOPMENT TIME"??? Under the stimulus plan, hospitals will receive funding beginning in 2011 if they show "meaningful use" of such systems. To take full advantage of that, medical providers would need to buy and implement systems before the end of this year. THIS YEAR - AS IN, 2009, ALREADY 1/4 GONE... The federal benefits taper off through 2014. Then the program will begin to implement penalties for health care providers that are not using electronic records-keeping programs. In a proprietary EMR world, who does the intellectual property of clinical knowledge and workflow really acrue to? The practitioner or the EMR company? Why is the public going to pay a large amount of money for EMR systems but be forbidden from examining and owning it? Other than 'tough luck' what do we tell taxpayers, patients, and practitioners who purchased EMR software with federal money that are owned by bankrupt, dead or dying corporations whose 'code escrow' assurances are pretty much worthless?

Thu, Feb 19, 2009 Tyrone NZ

I agree with some of what you said but points to bring out are: Closed source software (methinks primarily Microsoft) has such a foothold in management minds that that is pretty much the only solution they follow - A one track mind. A bill such as this would force these managers who have a one track mind to open themselves up to other vendors that don't use Microsoft - For example many MS coders attempt to play down extremely powerful coding languages such as PHP and Java but let's face it these are both powerful languages and they run on multi platform so it is about getting the right mix out there in the IT Infrastructure preventing the one track mind attitude that is so common these days.

Wed, Feb 11, 2009 Katherine McGuire Washington, DC

A government preference or special consideration for open source software would be unnecessary and unwise.

Government IT buyers will naturally “consider the source of an application solution (open or closed) as part of the government's technology acquisition process.” It doesn’t need to be mandated.

Seeking special status for open source software is no different than seeking an “earmark.” Open source has not been proven to provide greater cost savings, security or interoperability than commercial software. It may be perfect for some applications and less so for others. The IT buyer should be free to make the choice -- open source, properietary, or a mix of the two -- that works best for the organization.

Also, government purchasing rules have a huge impact on the technology marketplace. Any limitations on government purchasers will also affect the choices that are available to everyday consumers.

Finally, the US Government asks governments around the world to adhere to the principle of technology neutrality, not mandating one technology by law or regulation. Abandonment of tech neutrality in USG purchasing would open the door to discrimination against US-based companies and workers.

Instead of picking winners and losers, government should focus on establishing performance goals and allowing companies to compete to meet those goals. A goals-based program will maintain flexibility in a world where technological change is inevitable and desirable.

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