US Government Accelerating Development And Release Of Open Source

Mark Bohannon | | April 24, 2014

I had a chance to catch up with David A. Wheeler, a long-time leader in advising and working with the US government on issues related to open source software. As early as the late 1990s, David was demonstrating why open source software was integral to the US goverment IT architecture, and his personal webpage is a frequently cited source on open standards, open source software, and computer security.

In this interview, we explore the current state of use of open source software by the US government, the challenges of the Federal acquisition system, and what he's excited about as he looks ahead for open source and government.

What is the state of play of open source software in the US government?

I think open source software (OSS) is considered and used much more often than in the past. I don’t know of any quantitative study that confirms this, but anecdotally I see much more of it, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), JBOSS, Drupal, and PostgreSQL.

There are also many uses of smaller components embedded in larger websites and systems, but it’s often difficult to know when that occurs. Sadly, it’s still common for acquisitions to ignore OSS alternatives, but I think that there is already an inexorable trend towards considering OSS as an option. One reason for the trend is that younger people in IT are used to using OSS, so as they enter the workforce they come understanding OSS instead of being ignorant or resistant. Also, budget pressures are making many people in government re-examine OSS. OSS is not free in the monetary sense, but it is often a good deal, and budget limitations sometimes make people consider change....