Uncle Sam meets open source with open arms

Collaboration for the common good -- what open source is all about

It seems everywhere I look, I see another example of government adopting open source.

Earlier this month, a consortium of public and non-profit organizations launched Civic Commons, a public-private partnership that will help governments share software they have developed. It's a terrific idea that will foster innovation, eliminate duplicate effort, and save money. And it's another great example of the growing adoption of open source software in governments.

Examples of open source in the U.S. government abound. The Smithsonian and Search.USA.gov use Solr/Lucene open source enterprise search. The White House re-launched whitehouse.gov using Drupal. The DoD and the Intelligence Community have proposed an Open Technology Development roadmap "to increase technical efficiency and reduce software lifecycle costs within DoD," and the DoD has developed forge.mil to "enable continuous collaboration among all stakeholders including project managers, developers, testers, certifiers, operators, and users." In fact, my own company, Lucid Imagination, is funded in part by In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA, further evidence that open source and government are going hand in hand.

Examples of open source abroad is equally as evident. The EU's Open Source Observatory and Repository provides public administrations with access to more than two thousand free and open source applications and the open source CASPAR (Cultural, Artistic and Scientific knowledge for Preservation, Access and Retrieval) research project is making mounds of data stored in EU archives accessible.

Why this increased adoption of open source in the halls of government? The obvious assumption is that it's all cost driven, that governments are desperate to save money, much as enterprises feel the pinch.

But I believe the story is much bigger and that government agencies have recognized the compelling benefits beyond cost savings, including increased efficiency, more productive employees, greater flexibility and agility in integrating applications, and solving problems faster by leveraging a larger community to evolve applications at a pace that the closed source world can't keep up with. And it may be that unlocking restrictive license terms might have something to do with it, too.

And there's an even better angle worth considering here. Open source is good government! What better definition of effective government can we have than individuals working together and sharing their efforts for the common good-and creating something better and faster than they could have created alone?

Know of additional innovative uses of open source in government? Send me your comments. I'd love to hear about other current, compelling projects, and your thoughts on how you see those projects changing in the near future.

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