White House to share Custom Code with Open Source Community

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The White House has released the draft of its Source Code Policy that sets out rules regarding sharing of customised software among federal agencies. The policy aims at improving government access to applications as well as lowering development costs.

The policy also states that the Obama Administration will be launching a pilot program which will require federal agencies to release nearly 20 per cent of the third-party-developed custom coding as open source software making it completely accessible to external developers in the open source community.

As stated by Tony Scott, U.S CIO in a blog post the past week, “Through this policy and pilot program, we can save taxpayer dollars by avoiding duplicative customer software purchases and promote innovation and collaboration across federal agencies. We will also enable the brightest minds inside and outside of government to review and improve our code, and work together to ensure that the code is secure, reliable and effective in furthering our national objectives.”

The Administration has launched the policy with the aim of fulfilling its commitment in adopting a government-focused open source software policy which was originally proposed in its Second Open Government National Action Plan. The new law sets out open sharing guidelines for any new custom software that has been built for U.S government websites and systems. These could be developed internally or via contracted third-party vendors apart from cybersecurity software.

The new policy states that prior to agencies officially commissioning a new custom software development project, they must carry out a thorough “alternatives analysis” for determining whether there is a pre-existing software solution at another agency whose source code can be shared for any important task at hand. Agencies will also need to find out and consider any off-the-shelf software solutions which may be available before commissioning a custom project.

Even though the new guidelines are not applicable for software programs which were contracted via third parties before the Source Code Policy got published, it strongly motivates agencies to take steps in making those applications available for shared interagency use as well.


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