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'Misconceptions' battle

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Advocates who helped shape a major US government department's policy paper on using open-source in IT projects are stepping up their lobby.

Open Source for America plans to push for clear statements on the rules around using open source in government IT across a number of federal departments next year.

The idea is to dispel lingering misconceptions about open source and misinterpretations of the rules around procurement and community licenses that it feels have hampered government's broader use of open source in public projects.

OSA director Bill Vass told The Reg in a recent interview the group will push for policy statements similar to the one issued recently by the US Department of Defense (DoD) inside each major federal agency. The DoD document outlined the cost and technology advantages of open-source and encouraged agencies to consider open-source when pitching projects for tender.

Vass said the OSA will try to meet members of the influential federal chief information officer council. The council develops guidelines for IT policy, procedures, and standards across all US federal government. The council's director is president Obama's federal CIO Vivek Kundra, whose already shown strong early support for open source, in addition to cloud computing, with members including civilians and generals.

The OSA particularly wants each of the major agencies that are already using open source - notably the Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Health and Human Services - to issue policy statements similar to the DoD.

The group also plans to lobby members of Congress and raise awareness through a whitepaper it's producing that lays out six reasons why government should move to open source. Spending less tax-dollars on expensive software licenses, avoiding the need to reinvent code already in the community, and a focus on security are likely to feature.

The push on government follows October's memo from DoD deputy CIO David Wennergren designed to highlight six benefits to using open source and dispel lingering "misconceptions and misinterpretations" in laws, policies, and regulations.

Wennergren pointed to openness of the code and the fact most open-source is not charged using an expensive per-seat basis, meaning it is potentially cheaper to support and buy.

He also encouraged people to take the time to learn about the different licenses, noting confusion exists on the subject of licenses - particularly the GPL.

"There are positive aspects of OSS that should be considered when conducting market research on software for DoD use," Wennergren wrote.

Overseas lessons

Vass said a number of his group's suggestions - culled from observing how governments in other countries such as the UK and Brazil use open source - featured in Wennergren's memo. Open-source representatives began engaging with the DoD two years ago.

Vass said Wennergren could have gone further - actually saying open-source must be evaluated as part of a project rather than suggesting it should be - but he's still happy with the document because there'd been a lot of FUD inside the DoD on using open source.

"They sort of used it and wouldn't tell anyone they were using it because they weren't sure they were allowed to," he said. "You'd go to an intel agency and they'd pick open source because the care about security, and you'd go across the street to an agency in army and their CIO would say you can't use the code because it's open source. This [memo] sets a level playing field.

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