Even the 'worst' open government plans include open source

The U.S. federal agencies are evaluated and it appears open source is becoming de rigeur in U.S. government redesign

An independent group released its rankings for U.S. government agencies' open government plans and said Treasury, Defense, Management and Budget, Energy and Justice had the weakest plans of the lot.OpenTheGovernment.org.PDF here) on the Open Government Directive came via the Office of Management and Budget.

NASA came out smelling like a rose, with the strongest-ranked open government plan, followed by the EPA and HUD, according to the rankings by

Interestingly enough, the original memorandum (

Part of the federal open government program led to the Obama Administration rebuilding the White House website on Drupal and contributing code back to the project. Developing open government plans for all federal departments was another arm of that. Some of the plans involve using open source to work more with the general public, such as NASA's. NASA, in its report, said it already released code to open source projects, but it planned to bring OSS in earlier in the process:

This would shift our open source activities from its one-way direction of giving the public access to finalized software products, to allowing two-way collaboration as part of the development process. The benefits of allowing the public to assist in development of NASA software include increased software quality, accelerated software development, and a higher rate of technology transfer both to and from NASA.

Even some of the bottom-ranked agencies included open source initiatives in their plans, to varying degrees (all links lead to PDFs except Treasury, which didn't have one available):Department of Energy: Recently launched Open Energy Information, a wiki to make resources and data available and to enable those in government, private sector, project developers and other nations share information.Department of Defense: The department's Defense Information Systems Agency conducted a pilot of a Drupal-based social networking pilot. Called DEFStar, its point is "to gauge interest and usage of collaboration tools across the Department."Treasury Department: In its efforts to share information across agencies more often and openly, the department may or may not "develop and post code so it can be shared with other agencies (open source or the contract written such that the government owns the code)." In other words, it might share code it develops with other agencies, but the license might not be open-source. Or not.Department of Justice: It promises better tracking of what data is released to the public and in cases where it is determined a data set can't be released in full due to security concerns, it will consider releasing part of the data. As a professional journalist for 20 years, I can attest to the fact that government (federal, state, local, whatever) usually just deny a request out of hand if it can release only part of the data, so that is actually  an improvement.Office of Management and Budget: Its site, USAspending.gov, will relaunch on a new platform, with a new user interface. The plan didn't say if the platform would be open source, but in terms of data, it seemed it would make it easier to download data and to subscribe to data on government spending via RSS feeds and the like.

Eight agencies in all ranked as having strong plans, according to the organization, while most (16) fell somewhere in the middle. The groups that participated in the ranking were American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Center for Democracy and Technology, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Project on Government Oversight, Sunlight Foundation, Union of Concerned Scientists, faculty and students at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, and a volunteer, Ted Smith (Health Central).

Some agencies have said they plan to revisit their plans based on the group's evaluation, so OpenTheGovernment.org will re-evaluate them in June. It'll be interesting to see how the use of open source continues to evolve in open government.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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