White House finalizes federal source code sharing policy

White House finalizes federal source code sharing policy

The White House reaffirmed its commitment to efficiency, transparency and innovation with the release of  long-anticipated guidelines aimed at improving agency sharing of federally developed software source code.

The memo, noted in an Aug. 8 blog post by Federal CIO Tony Scott, also incorporates a pilot program to release some custom-developed code used by federal agencies to the public. Scott is also looking to agencies for more public releases beyond the pilot. Additionally, the Office of Management and Budget will also use a new website called Code.gov to make access to code even easier.

Scott noted that the federal government has been sharing code for some time, including the code for the White House's "We the People" petition platform, the Vet.gov site hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the code for  the Data.gov website. Now Scott is taking these established best practices governmentwide.

The new document follows the March 2016 release of a draft policy that spelled out what agencies must do before acquiring any custom-developed code and the process they must follow for releasing open source code.

The goal of making federal source code more accessible is to increase sharing and reduce costs of duplicative software purchases, Scott said. With open source, he said, the federal government should remain technologically neutral and ensure IT investments remain "merit-based," adding the amount of available federal open source software will grow.

Overall, the policy calls for a pilot program in which agencies that commission new custom software open 20 percent of their custom code for the duration of the pilot (three years) so that enough data can be collected to gauge the performance of the pilot.

"Agencies are strongly encouraged to release as much custom-developed code as possible to further the Federal Government’s commitment to transparency, participation, and collaboration," according to the policy.

The policy also calls for federal agencies to apply a three-step test when acquiring software, to determine if an existing federal or commercial solution can do the job before turning to new custom software.

Not all code is eligible for sharing. The policy notes that some source code is restricted by patent or export controls or could potentially compromise national security or private information. There is also an exemption under which the federal CIO can restrict sharing because it is in "the national interest" to do so. OMB is required under the policy to justify any software that is exempted from the open source rules.

This article was first posted on FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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