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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Are you ready to share your code?

The Office of Management and Budget has released a draft policy to improve how custom code developed for the government – including code developed by contractors – is acquired and distributed.

The draft policy has two primary requirements:

New custom code whose development is paid for by the government be made available for reuse across federal agencies.

A portion of the new custom code will be released to the public as Open Source Software.

The draft policy was released via a blog post by federal CIO Tony Scott.

According to reporting by our sister site, FCW.com, the move is in line with an overall push toward more open source and the sharing of code. 

The government is looking for ways to reduce costs by avoiding duplicative custom software development and purchases.

The draft policy is open for comment through April 11.

In his blog, Scott says he is particularly interested in comments about the releases of some code as Open Source Software.

And there is a pilot program proposed where 20 percent of newly developed custom code would be released as Open Source.

A couple things stand out in my mind. First, they are talking custom code, but it isn’t really defined. It is one thing if the development is completely from scratch, but what if it is commercial software that is being customized? Is there a line where customization becomes custom?

I also wonder how contractors will protect intellectual property. Will contractors gravitate more toward productizing their software development so that it is no longer consider custom?

Or, over time, will they try to pull more customers toward commercial products?

It is an interesting policy initiative, and it makes good sense on many levels. If the government is paying for it, why not share it?

On the other hand, doesn’t it undermine a contractor’s ability to differentiate what they do?

Perhaps this could also be a good point of negotiation. A contractor could lower its rates in exchange for keeping the intellectual property.

Questions, questions, questions.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 10, 2016 at 9:29 AM

Reader Comments

Fri, Mar 11, 2016 BJK Alexandria, VA

Well, the Government has always had the right to share the code we write "open source", but they have not. In most cases there are good reasons for that (like, say, national security?). With that said, the reuse of code across Government makes tons of sense - could generate huge savings in future development (especially if there were some standards for development - like a ".gov" operating systems (think about GE's development of Predix).

Thu, Mar 10, 2016

Good questions. But just think of the proliferation effect. Since so much delivered software is full of bugs and plain shortfalls in specified functionality, the "borrowing" agencies or the general public will be multiplying or amplifying these errors. When you add on top the immediate re-distribution of the free software by clever people in Mumbai, Tel Aviv, Moscow and Shanghai, a little error will find its way around the world in a flash. That's globalisation.

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