Key concept: To maximize public benefit of Federal investments, publicly funded software source code could be released under a free/libre open source software license (OSS or FLOSS). When we say publicly-funded, we are referring specifically to custom code written by federal employees or contractors of federal agencies. We are not suggesting any investment in proprietary software code be affected by this new policy, rather maximizing investments in code for which the government holds the rights.

Considerations worthy of debate (the short list):

Openness: Open Sourcing ensures basic fairness & transparency by making software and related artifacts available to the taxpayers who provided funding.

The President’s “Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government” (January 2009) declares that “Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will … disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use… Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.”

Economic Multiplier: Provides an economic stimulus by serving as the raw material that supports a competitive software development and services industry.

Any public and private organization or individual would be free to improve, support, maintain, and sell open source software and related services based upon the software. The TCP/IP protocols that power the Internet today are an example of the positive commercial impact that government-released open source software can have. These protocols, and a software implementation of them, were developed using U.S. Government funds under contract and were made publicly available in the early 1980s.

Supports the Federal “Share First” Agenda: Maximizes value to the government by significantly increasing reuse and collaborative development between federal agencies and the private sector, consistent with the current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “Share First” initiative.

Releasing software as open source enables government entities to find the software that other government entities have created through industry-standard search engines, eliminates roadblocks to its use, adaptation and redistribution, and enables private/public partnerships for its upkeep. Such reuse would reduce the significant taxpayer expense that occurs when different government entities recreate the same software capabilities.