Category Archives: What We’re Reading

Congrats to Todd Park to be US CTO

Word broke today that Todd Park currently Health and Human Services CTO is to be promoted to Federal CTO.

In a Whitehouse blog post the announcement was made today snip:

“For nearly three years, Todd has served as CTO of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he was a hugely energetic force for positive change. He led the successful execution of an array of breakthrough initiatives, including the creation of HealthCare.gov, the first website to provide consumers with a comprehensive inventory of public and private health insurance plans available across the Nation by zip code in a single, easy-to-use tool.

On his first full day in office, President Obama created the position of “Chief Technology Officer” to help modernize a Federal government relying too heavily on 20th century technology, and to better use technological tools to address a wide range of national challenges. In his role as U.S. CTO, Todd will continue the work of Aneesh Chopra, the Nation’s first Chief Technology Officer, who stepped down last month after an inspired and productive three years on the job.

The U.S. CTO’s office is situated here within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where Todd will work closely with U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications Tom Power.  Tom will perform the duties of OSTP’s Associate Director for Technology—a position previously held by Chopra in conjunction with his role as U.S. CTO—while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement.”

Congrats to Todd!

OSFA responds to draft “Shared First” policy

[If you agree with this position, please head over to the IT Shared Service Strategy IdeaScale site and upvote! Thanks!]

Open Source for America applauds OMB’s effort to increase the efficiency of the Federal IT budget through the principles of commoditization, reuse, sharing, and collaboration described in the draft IT Shared Services Policy distributed on December 8th, 2011. These principles are also the hallmarks of open source software, and while there is no explicit mention of open source in the plan at this time, we believe that there should be. We see a unique opportunity for open source to improve the effectiveness of Shared First.

“A number of barriers exist which have prevented the broader adoption of shared IT services. Lack of information sharing among the Federal agencies, budgetary restrictions, acquisition issues, and other factors have all contributed to a culture in which proprietary, specialized systems are the norm.”

We could not agree more. We believe that OMB should explicitly mention open source as a recommended method for overcoming these barriers. Open source software itself, of course, can reduce costs and ease acquisition challenges. We can assume that many agencies will naturally use open source software as part of their Shared First implementation.

Embracing the open source approach, though, and using it to encourage sharing between agencies, departments, other governments, and the general public is the purest expression of the goals of the Shared First policy. Open source excels at the Shared First Design Goals, including visibility, commoditization, reusability, extensibility, and standardization, and we believe it should be actively and explicitly encouraged by the policy.

Much of the draft is concerned with the sharing of existing infrastructure, and is in this way very similar to the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative. As the scope of the Shared First policy is much broader than the FDCCI, and concerns itself with LoB information systems and applications, we would like OMB to consider expanding the scope of the mandate to include the sharing of development resources, and not just their ongoing operations and maintenance.

As the policy encourages agencies to “move up the stack,” and share ever-more complex layers of their information systems, agencies will need to perform more customization to meet their specific mission needs. If they were to use proprietary commercial offerings or systems developed for just one agency, this can become very difficult and very expensive.

If agencies were to instead employ open source software, or better still: share their taxpayer-funded software under an open source license, customization would become easier, and the need for customization would be reduced, owing to the natural modularity of open source projects.

In the process, agencies would be making themselves available to contributions and improvements from their partner agencies as well as state and local governments who also have a use for that same software. Certainly, it is possible to share complex application software amongst agencies without open source software. We believe, however, that releasing software under an open source license can simplify this process, and simultaneously encourage sharing among other state and local governments, and the private sector as well. This approach has already been successful at NASA and the National Institutes for Health. We see no reason why other agencies cannot realize the same benefits.

“Open source is… the most concrete form of civic participation.”

— Macon Phillips, White House New Media Director

An excellent example of this is the effort currently underway at the EPA to develop a shared management system for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) responses, one of the goals of the President’s National Action Plan under the Open Government Initiative. Almost as soon as the FOIA project was announced, it became clear that many citizens, state and local governments were interested in developing this platform alongside the EPA.

Should this project succeed, there would be a single, common platform for handling FOIA responses that would be freely available to the 93 agencies required to perform this task. Rather than 93 purpose-built systems, agencies could take advantage of each other’s innovation, the innovation of the private sector, and the innovation of thousands of state, local, municipal, and tribal governments who have their own Freedom of Information requirements.

Unlike working with proprietary FOI software, the number of agency-specific customizations would be drastically reduced, and since customizations can be contributed back to the main project, the ongoing maintenance burden of these customizations would be reduced, as well.

This kind of inter-, intra-, and extra-agency collaboration using the open source model is already finding success throughout the government, including the Veterans’ Administration Open Source VistA program, the National Security Agency’s SELinux project, and the OMB’s own data.gov.

It’s not difficult to imagine that these projects can encourage the growth of small businesses specializing in the implementation and maintenance of this software. Incorporating these stakeholders would bring to bear on the EPA’s FOIA platform far more development and testing resources than the EPA could muster on its own. Because the software assets have been commoditized, the EPA and other agencies would no longer be beholden to a single vendor for its FOIA software. This is the kind of relationship that OMB would like with its software assets, and this is precisely the kind of collaboration and commoditization that the current Shared First policy encourages. This is why we believe that the policy should make the role of open source explicit.

Open source software is particularly useful when the Federal government mandates action by state governments. The New York State Office of Temporary Disability Assistance has had great success in sharing open source eligibility logic with its counterparts in other states, allowing them all to share the burden of implementing CMS eligibility requirements. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has employed open source software to encourage the adoption of its CONNECT standards for electronic health records. Without open source, these efforts would rely on potentially expensive proprietary software, which would have to be either unfunded or subsidized by the Federal partner to encourage adoption of their mandates. Instead, these organizations can now work collaboratively and transparently to solve their common missions.

Releasing agency software as open source has other benefits, as well. One of the primary concerns of the draft policy is to encourage visibility: agencies cannot share with each other if they do not know what’s being shared. The open source community has largely solved this discoverability problem through tools like sourceforge.net and github.com, both of which may be used, free of cost, by Federal staff and the public.

Open Source for America is excited by this renewed focus on agency collaboration and transparency. We strongly support the Shared First policy, and believe that it is one of the best tools available to meet agencies’ current challenges. We look forward to working together with OMB and the implementing agencies to make the policy successful. We also believe that by encouraging agencies to open source their software, and to share that software with each other, we can together ensure that agencies are putting their existing budgets to their best and highest use.

NASA launches open source web site

http://www.h-online.com/open/news/item/NASA-launches-open-source-web-site-1404210.html
NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the US, has launched code.nasa.gov, a web site that will serve as the central source of information about the agency’s open source projects. The site, which is still in early alpha, is intended to help unify and expand NASA’s open source activities

UK Government publishes open source guidelines

by: Steve Evans, Published 04 November 2011
UK govt wants to dispel some of the myths around open source software
The toolkit contains information on procuring open source software as well as guides to vendors and what sort of costs are likely to be associated with going down the open source route.

In total the toolkit, available on the Cabinet Office’s website, contains six documents: All About Open Source – including FAQs, ICT Advice Note – Procurement of Open Source, Procurement Policy Note on Open Source, OSS Options, CESG Guidance on Open Source and Total Cost of Ownership.

http://opensource.cbronline.com/news/government-publishes-open-source-guidelines-041111

Open Source for America recognizes 2011 Open Source Awards Winners

Open Source for America (OSFA) is excited to announce the winners of our second annual Open Source Awards program, recognizing individuals, projects and deployments for their role in advancing the adoption of free and open source software in federal government agencies. Winners were honored during FedTalks 2011, held in October in Washington, D.C.

Open Source for America’s 2011 Open Source Awards were sponsored by LinuxBox, HP, Red Hat, Brainfood, and EnterpriseDB. For more information on the awards, visit http://opensourceforamerica.org/awards.

2011 Open Source Award Winners

Open Source Deployment in Government

This award honors a U.S. government agency or body that has shown commitment to the use of open source, through policy and/or adoption. The 2011 winner is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate‘s Homeland Open Security Technology (HOST) program. DHS S&T is the sponsor and driving force behind the HOST program. The mission of the HOST program is to investigate open security methods, models and technologies and identify viable and sustainable approaches that support national cyber security objectives. To achieve this mission, HOST will lead efforts of discovery, collaboration and seeding development in open source software and practices that produce a measurable impact. DHS S&T has committed $10 million to fund the HOST program for up to five years and is openly promoting the adoption of open source solutions in Federal, state and local government agencies.

Open Source Project

This award recognizes an open source project that has shown promise and benefit for U.S. government use. The 2011 winner is the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) for its OpenLayers web mapping project. OpenLayers makes it easy to put a dynamic map in any web page. It can display map tiles and markers loaded from any source. OpenLayers has been developed to further the use of geographic information of all kinds. OpenLayers is completely free, Open Source JavaScript, released under the 2-clause BSD License (also known as the FreeBSD). As a framework, OpenLayers is intended to separate map tools from map data so that all the tools can operate on all the data sources. This separation breaks the proprietary silos that earlier GIS revolutions have taught civilization to avoid. OSGeo believes the mapping revolution on the public web should benefit from the experience of history.

Individual Awards

These awards recognize one internal OSFA member and one external contributor who have made significant contributions in the promotion and use of open source solutions in the U.S. government during the past year. The 2011 winners are David A. Wheeler of the Institute for Defense Analyses and Melanie Chernoff, Public Policy Manager at Red Hat.

Wheeler is the 2011 external contributor award winner for over a decade of advocacy for open source in the Defense Department. Through whitepapers and monographs like “Why Open Source Software / Free Software? Look at the Numbers!” and “Nearly all FLOSS is Commercial,” not to mention his preternatural knowledge of DOD procurement rules, Wheeler has provided the open source community with the advocacy tools we use every day.

Chernoff, one of the founding members of OSFA, is the 2011 internal OSFA member award winner for her tireless work behind the scenes of OSFA. She has been involved in nearly every aspect of the organization from the very beginning: the infrastructure team, the policy team, and the marketing team have all benefited from her work. She even drafted the organization’s founding documents.

To join Open Source for America and help build support for the use of open source technologies, visit the OSFA website at http://www.opensourceforamerica.org.

U.S. CIO: Changing the Culture of Federal IT

By Tom Kaneshige Thu, October 27, 2011

Only two months into the job, VanRoekel was soon in awe of the sweeping federal IT landscape.
What about people who want to keep things the same?
“There’s a great business for someone,” VanRoekel jokes. “Create a front plate of a server with blinking lights on it but no hardware behind it. People can look at it and say, ‘There’s my server.’ Then we just virtualize it and put it all somewhere in the cloud.”