Opposing Viewpoints On Open Source In Government

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 24, 2009

Whether you think that open source is gaining traction in the U.S. government or losing its foothold depends on which Web site post you read first today. ZDnet's Dana Blankenhorn makes a great case for why the recently formalized arrangement between the Open Source Software Institute (OSSI) and the Department of Defense is a huge deal for the advancement of open source at the government level. However, Tod Newcombe, editor of GoV-log: Editor's Video Blog, says government IT executives' enthusiasm over open source is waning.

Who's right?

Well, both. Blankenhorn had a email chat with the executive director of OSSI, John Weathersby, who explained what the DoD's interest in open source means in the long-term. He says it demonstrates the government's ongoing commitment to consider open source options during the decision-making process, and may perhaps even find its way into discussions about the use of open source in President Obama's national health care initiatives.

Blankenhorn writes, "The most important point is that the military approached [Weathersby]. Project leader Dick Nelson wanted a full open source strategy, and eventually noted lawyer Larry Rosen was even brought in to work with government legal counsel. This was not slapped together."

Evidently, the government is ready to be pro-active when it comes to open source. Or, maybe not.

Newcombe points to a survey published in the latest issue of Public CIO that indicates government IT executives rank open source low on their list of technology priorities for 2009. He says execs are troubled by the costs associated with training and integration, and the general unwillingness of vendors to work with open source.

Newcombe won't go so far as to say open source is completely DOA. "Despite the problems, open source appears to be embedded in many IT systems, especially at the state and federal level (though some local governments have embraced it wholeheartedly). What you don't hear is a lot of talk about these open source projects. For the most part, they seem to be flying under the radar."

Is open source technology an acceptable option in government that hasn't filtered down to the rank and file yet, or do the people closer to the front lines have a more realistic perspective of its usefulness? Of course, it will be years before we see how the issue plays out, but it's interesting to ponder in the meantime.