Stars align for adoption of federal open-source computer software – TechCrunch

In recent years, the private sector has rejected proprietary software in favor of open source software and development approaches. For good reason: the open source avenue saves money and development time by using freely available components instead of writing new code, allows new applications to be deployed quickly, and eliminates lock-in suppliers.

The federal government, however, has been slower to embrace open source. Change efforts are complicated by the fact that many agencies use vast infrastructure and legacy IT systems to serve millions of people and are responsible for a plethora of sensitive data. Washington spends tens of billions each year on IT, but with each agency essentially acting as its own business, decision-making is far more decentralized than it would be, say, at a major bank.

While the government has taken a number of steps in a more open direction in recent years, the story of open source in federal IT has often seemed more about potential than reality.

But there are several indications that this is changing and that the government is reaching its own tipping point for open source adoption. The costs of producing modern apps to serve increasingly digitally-savvy citizens are ever-increasing, and agencies are being budget-constrained to find ways to improve service while saving taxpayer dollars. .

Pure economics dictates an increased role for open source, as do a variety of other benefits. Because its source code is publicly available, open source software encourages continuous review by others outside of the initial development team to promote increased software reliability and security, and code can be easily shared. for reuse by other agencies.

Here are five signs that I see the US government increasingly rallying around open source.

More resources dedicated to open source innovation

Two initiatives have gone a long way in helping agencies advance their open source journeys.

18F, a team within the General Services Administration that acts as a consultant to help other agencies build digital services, is an ardent open source funder. His work has included the development of a new application to access Federal Election Commission data, as well as software that has enabled the GSA to improve its process for hiring contractors.

18F – short for the GSA’s headquarters address at 1800 F St. – reflects the same basic philosophy that helped spur the emergence and momentum of open source in the private sector. “The code we create belongs to the public as part of the public domain,” the group states on its website.

Five years ago last August, the Obama administration introduced a new federal source code policy that called on every agency to take an open source approach, create a source code inventory, and release at least 20% of the code written in open source. The administration also launched Code.gov, giving agencies a place to locate open source solutions that other departments are already using.

The results, however, have been mixed. Most agencies are now in line with the federal policy goal, although many still have work to do in implementation, according to the Code.gov tracker. And a report by a Code.gov staffer found that some agencies are embracing open source more than others.

Still, Code.gov says the growth of open source within the federal government has gone further than originally anticipated.

A boost from the new administration

The US Bailout, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that President Biden signed into law in early March 2021, contained $9 billion for the GSA’s Technology Modernization Fund, which funds new federal technology projects. In January, the White House said upgrading federal IT infrastructure and addressing recent breaches such as the SolarWinds hack were “an urgent national security issue that cannot wait.”

It’s fair to assume that open source software will form the basis of many of these efforts, as White House Chief Technology Officer David Recordon is a longtime open source advocate and once led the Facebook open source projects.

A changing skills environment

Federal IT employees who have spent much of their careers working on legacy systems are beginning to retire, and their successors are younger people who grew up in an open source world and are comfortable with it. comfortable.

About 81% of private sector hiring managers surveyed by the Linux Foundation said hiring open source talent is a priority and they are more likely than ever to seek out certified professionals. You can be sure that the public sector is increasingly reflecting this trend as it recognizes a need for talent to support the growing adoption of open source.

Enhanced Supplier Capabilities

By partnering with the right commercial open source vendor, agencies can reduce infrastructure costs and manage their applications more efficiently. For example, vendors have made great strides in meeting security requirements set by policies such as the Federal Security Security Modernization Act (FISMA), Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS), and Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRamp ), which makes it easier to deal with compliance.

Additionally, some vendors offer powerful infrastructure automation tools and generous support packages, so federal agencies don’t have to go it alone as they accelerate their open source strategies. Linux distributions such as Ubuntu provide a consistent development experience from the laptop/workstation to the cloud, and at the edge, for public clouds, containers, and physical and virtual infrastructure.

This makes application development a well-supported activity that includes 24/7 phone and web support, providing access to world-class enterprise support teams via web portals, knowledge bases or by telephone.

The pandemic effect

From accommodating more employees working from home to responding to increased citizen demand for online services, COVID-19 has forced large swaths of the federal government to up their digital game. Open source makes it possible to migrate legacy applications to the cloud, to develop new applications more quickly and to adapt IT infrastructures to rapidly changing demands.

As these signs show, the federal government continues to quickly move from talk to action in embracing open source.

Who wins? Everyone!