New OMB policy aims to make federal agency code open source


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The White House will release a draft policy Thursday for sharing source code among federal agencies, including a pilot program that will make a portion of federal code open source.

In a blog post, U.S. CIO Tony Scott said the program will save taxpayer dollars by avoiding duplicative software purchases, and promote innovation and collaboration across federal agencies.

“This policy is consistent with the federal government’s long-standing policy of technology neutrality through which we seek to ensure that federal investments in IT are merit-based, improve the performance of our government and create value for the American people,” Scott writes.

The open source policy comes as directed in the Second Open Government National Action Plan, which was released in 2014. That plan states:

“No later than December 31, 2015, the Administration will work through the federal agencies to develop an open source software policy that, together with the Digital Services Playbook, will support improved access to custom software code developed for the Federal government.”

The policy would require agencies to release at least 20 percent of their newly-developed custom code as open-source. This custom code is that which has been developed by third parties — custom code that is developed by government agencies is automatically considered a “government work,” making it open source by default. 

OMB will also be launching Project Open Source, an online repository of tools, best practices, and schemas to help covered agencies implement this guidance within the next 90 days. 

Federal agencies have deployed thousands of open source projects since 2014. The Education Department’s College Scorecard, the General Services Administration’s federalwide analytics dashboard, and a tool hosted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that uses data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are among government projects that have their source code publicly available on GitHub, an open source software development tool.

The White House this week has announced several tech-focused projects, including a new open data portal that melds tools from various federal and local government agencies to help communities find ways to improve their residents’ lives.

The announcements come as President Barack Obama will become the first president to keynote the South by Southwest conference, a weeklong tech, film and music conference beginning Friday in Austin, Texas.

The policy will be open for public comment at

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Agencies, Applications & Software, Government IT News, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), open source, Tech, Tony Scott, White House