Open source government with CBP CTO Wolf Tombe

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Chief Technology Officer Wolf Tombe sat down with FedScoopTV to discuss the agency’s approach to open source software, trends, predictions and advice to other government agencies.

On the importance of open source in government:

A number of reasons. The first, obviously, is the opportunity to save money and to reduce some of the impact on our budgets. The other thing, though, is that it’s really the right thing to do for the taxpayers as well, because it creates a little more competition … The other thing is, to my mind, it really helps us prevent vendor lock-in, which is a huge problem, given the way we used to do business. So, the ability to have the open standards and open source compliance just works in a lot of different ways in our favor.


How CBP is leveraging open source:

We’ve create a common infrastructure platform for our entry into cloud services. What we did was, we based that on the tenet that it had to be open standards based. It had to use open source software to manage it, to reduce the costs, and it had to be vendor agnostic and based on industry best practices for highly-available, highly-scalable infrastructure. And that’s actually turned out very well for us, because we have a number of vendor consortiums coming together to bid on these environments, and they’re all working together to make sure they integrate via open standards, which is beautiful, and they’re very high-speed, very cost-effective environments.

Trends and predictions on government open source software adoption:

I see a lot more adoption occurring a lot quicker, and I think the trend for that is just that all of us are facing fairly significant budget cuts, and those are going to be ongoing for quite a while.

Advice to other agencies:


One, open source is a different business model, so you have to understand that, and you have to plan for that. An example would be, ‘are you going to be able to contribute back?’ … and if not, how else can you support the open source community as a part of what your doing. The only thing is to be aware that there’s not necessarily support or maintenance for it, so you have to seek out a vendor who can help you provide that, because that is going to be a requirement for any enterprise class application. The third thing, of course, is don’t be afraid to get involved with the open standards community. There are standards bodies out there ensuring that open source continues to evolve. I really recommend getting involved in those bodies and ensuring that open source continues to evolve in a way that meets your particular agency’s mission requirements and needs.

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