Labor closes a window on open source

IT Budget

2003

$399 million

2004

$435 million

2005

(estimated)$422 million

2006

(requested)$409 million

Top 10 IT contractors 2004

in millions ($)


Titan Corp.

$10.9


DigitalNet (now BAE Systems)

$10.8


IBM Corp.

$9.4


Panacea Consulting Inc.

$7.4


Lockheed Martin Corp.

$4.4


Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.

$4.0


Senet International Corp.

$3.6


Northrop Grumman Corp.

$2.8


Envision Technology Partners

$2.7


Edge Systems Inc.

$2.2


SOURCE: Labor Dept. and Input of Reston, Va.

Kevin Connors, program director for DisabilityInfo.gov, says open-source is 'still in its infancy.'

Zaid Hamid

The Labor Department has seen some success with open-source software, but is moving away from using it on one of its most high-visibility projects, www.DisabilityInfo.gov.

'We are phasing out of open-source developments because we don't think it is in the best interest of the department,' Labor deputy CIO Tom Wiesner said, in reference to the project. 'We experienced a lack of technical support, and this was one of the primary reasons for moving away from this technology.'

Labor IT staff members added that the department will continue to develop applications using Microsoft Windows and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Unix platforms. The goal, they said, is to develop interoperable systems consistent with the agency's enterprise architecture.

Open source will continue to be part of some pilot consolidation programs starting next year, including WAN and network and security operations centers.

Cost efficiency

The decision comes after the agency dabbled in open-source technology for several Web sites, including the award-winning DisabilityInfo.gov portal and Workforce Connection.

The sites saw immediate success, particularly DisabilityInfo.gov, but as critical as open-source technology was to the site's growth and constant development, agency officials said the technology is still, for the most part, unproven. 'I think [open source is] still in its infancy,' said Kevin Connors, Labor's program director for DisabilityInfo.gov.

Although it has seen benefits from the technology, Labor was not so much enamored with open source as it was with cost efficiency.

'I think they're more interested in what is the best product, not so much open source,' said Peter Gallagher, president of Devis Corp. of Arlington, Va.

Devis developed several sites for Labor, including DisabilityInfo.gov, that incorporate many open-source elements.

It no longer features open-source software as a main component because of its integration into the FirstGov.gov family of portals in early 2004, but DisabilityInfo.gov's adaptability and accessibility resulted in a lot of recognition and an initial move toward open-source software in Labor.

Codes for open-source software, such as Linux operating systems, are not proprietary and can be viewed and updated by anyone with access to the system. In practice, an open-source developer builds a technology and users can view and scrutinize the source code. After being vetted for technological merit, changes can be made to the code. The result is a system or product that is constantly evolving to meet users' needs.

On their toes

DisabilityInfo.gov gives a clear example of open-source software's advantages, as its content managers have to be constantly alert for the rapid technological advances that can offer disabled citizens easier access to the portal and the Internet, Connors said.

'We can respond quicker, and we're not limited to any particular vendor or staff,' he said.

The site, considered a one-stop shop for disability information and resources, won a Web Content Managers Best Practices award in September.

Devis vice president Martin Hudson said technologies needed by the site's users are changing faster than any others in cyberspace.

He described the technological advances on the site as subtle things that most casual Internet users would not notice, but for a user with vision or hearing problems, he said these changes can make all the difference in the world.

An open-source content management system was, at first, the only way to meet these demands, Hudson said. 'It's really the kind of agility and flexibility that's involved here.'

Although it's moving away from open source for the project, the agency maintains a handful of sites using open-source elements. They include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Training Institute and two 'coach' sites for people affected by current events'the Base Realignment and Closure Coach (www.brac-coach.org) and a hurricane recovery services platform (www.hurricane-coach.org), both developed by Devis.

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