OSI Approved Licenses, a Foundation for Federal Source Code Policy

In December 2015, the OSI was invited by The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to participate in one of a series of round-tables seeking expertise in drafting the “Federal Source Code Policy – Achieving Efficiency, Transparency, and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software.” This government-wide policy originated from prior work included in the Second Open Government National Action Plan for the US, requiring U.S. federal departments and agencies to…

Adopt an open source software policy. Using and contributing back to open source software can fuel innovation, lower costs, and benefit the public. No later than December 31, 2015, the Administration will work through the Federal agencies to develop an open source software policy that, together with the Digital Services Playbook, will support improved access to custom software code developed for the Federal government.

OSI’s Patrick Masson & Deb Bryant

Board Director Deb Bryant and General Manager Patrick Masson joined a small group representing a number of standards bodies, the last convened before the round table process closed, and the policy would be released for public comment on GitHub in February of 2016. The OSI’s primary focus through discussions was to communicate the value of a globally recognized standard when identifying what qualified as “open source software,” specifically pointing to the OSI’s list of Approved Open Source Licenses—each certified to meet the criteria of the Open Source Definition. (The OSI also offered feedback and further recommendations during this public commenting period).

On August 8th, the final policy was published.

The Federal Source Code memorandum includes a subject line that clearly communicates the federal government’s commitment, “Achieving Efficiency, Transparency, and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software,” and we applaud the OMB for their compressive work: introducing the benefits of open source software, development and communities to a bureaucracy often challenged to move away from traditional modes of practice and policy; engaging with the larger technology sector in a inclusive and comprehensive review of current, and potential future-states for software development and use within the government, and; actually delivering a policy that can serve as a foundation to build on.

The OSI was pleased to find several key concepts that promote authentic engagement with open source software projects:

  • strong language encouraging federal agencies to release custom code as open source when commissioning new software,
  • an emphasis on open standards in all procurement,
  • transparency through code.gov, a new discovery portal hosting an inventory of all federal code,
  • a commitment to community as active particpants,
  • and an investment in educational materials and resources to assist federal agencies in advancing the government’s partnership with the public.

The OSI was honored to have contributed to the process, and for the opportunity to clarify the importance of a standard in open source licensing and licenses, as well as share our insights into the broader open source ecosystem as the US government enters a new level of participation.

We thank and congratulate the Office of Management and Budget and Tony Scott, U.S. CIO, for continuing to advance the US Federal Government’s ability to lever the value of adopting, producing, and contributing to open source as thoughtful stewards of public technology investment.

You can find the final policy on the Federal CIO’s web site at https://sourcecode.cio.gov/.