Software Development

18F pushes for an even more open 'open source' rule

The government startup that develops all of its code in the open wants the rest of government to follow suit.

Following the March 10 publication of a new draft Federal Source Code policy, the General Services Administration's 18F penned a response to one of federal CIO Tony Scott's questions.

Would "open source by default" be the way to go for federal code?

Absolutely, 18F Developer Eric Mill responded.

"Good software practices, such as writing appropriate documentation and separating passwords from the software which uses them, are good for all software and not unique to open source software," Mill wrote. "However, working in the open makes following these practices more consistent and more likely, even for the most competent staff — and when mistakes are made, working in public makes it more likely that they will be spotted and corrected early."

The draft federal policy, however, requires 100 percent open sourcing only for code developed in-house. When custom code is developed by third parties, agencies would have to release only 20 percent to the public.

There shouldn't be a distinction between internal and external development, Mill argued.

"This would eliminate entire classes of metrics that the White House would otherwise need to measure, and greatly reduce the overhead of implementing and overseeing this policy for OMB and agencies alike," he wrote.

If agencies need to keep vendor-developed code proprietary, they ought to go through a written justification process, Mill's response suggested.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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