Microsoft applauds open-source procurement memo

Opponents of open source software applauded a recent memorandum from the Office of Management and Budget that they claim puts proprietary software on competitive footing with open source software in federal procurements.

"We think it's a great memo," said Bill Guidera, policy counsel for Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., referring to a letter issued to agency CIOs and senior procurement officials by OMB IT and e-government administrator Karen Evans.

The OMB memo stressed that agencies making procurements must be "technology and vendor neutral," when making procurement decisions, as per guidelines set in OMB Circulars A-11 and A-130 and the Federal Acquisition Regulation policies.

Guidera spoke yesterday at a meeting sponsored by the Forum on Technology and Innovation, a semi-regular meeting to address technology-related issues held by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D- Ore.) and the Council on Competitiveness. This meeting, held in Washington, was on policy implications of open source software.

Guidera praised the memorandum, along with one released last year by the Defense Department, that stressed that open-source code is "subject to the same license terms and conditions as the regular code."

Both memos, Guidera said, tell agencies that they should "Feel free to use whatever you wish,'" meaning either proprietary software or open source software.

He contrasted these memos with a growing number of state government legislatures that drafted bills requiring procurement officers to consider open source software when making purchases, or to only use open source software.

"These are bills that say you cannot use [Microsoft] Windows because Windows is not open source. There are lots of reasons not to use Windows. But having a state law that says you not use it seems awfully prohibitive," Guidera said.

"Most [of those bills] have been defeated so far, but it's still something that is out there," Guidera said.

Another speaker, Morgan Reed, vice president of public affairs for the Association for Competitive Technology, charged that agencies will build "soft preferences" into contracts and legislation that tip the scales toward open-source software.

Such "soft preferences" can circumnavigate procurement policies. Reed charged
that one Census Bureau employee has claimed, in Linux conference talks, that by using open-source software, an agency does not have to wait through the procurement time of purchasing new software to get a new application up and running.

The employee was pointing out that since much open-source software can be downloaded at no cost, an agency using free software does not have to go through the procurement procedure for purchasing software. Reed, however, feels that agencies using even free software should still be subjected to procurement regulations.

"She was looking at that license to bypass the laws that Congress sent," Reed said. ACT is a Washington-based advocacy group for the technology industry, sponsored by Microsoft and other IT companies.

Reed also expressed concern over agencies paying for or developing open-source software that they later make available at no cost through the Gnu General Public License.

Reed said the federal research and development laboratories have long used more restrictive licenses that allow individual U.S. companies to exclusively purchase the rights to use a federally developed technology?and make money off it. A similar practice should be adopted by those agencies releasing software developed in-house, such as the Department of Energy, he advocated.

Reed said, "When you look at open-source software and licensing and government procurement policies, you have to ask yourself, 'How does this serve the interest of my constituents? How does advancing a product that does not necessarily return intellectual property to the U.S. benefit my constituency?' "

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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