Proposed guidelines for open government plans

OSFAOpen Source for America (OSFA) represents more than 1,600 businesses, associations, non-governmental organizations, communities, and academic/research institutions who have come together to support and guide federal efforts to make the U.S. Government more open through the use of free and open source software. We applaud the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative and the December 8th Directive requiring all federal agencies to promulgate Open Government Plans. We offer the following recommendations for essential elements that belong in every Open Government Plan:

PARTICIPATION – Citizens should have opportunities to meaningfully participate in their government’s work. This means that the government should actively solicit citizen input in its solicitations and internal rule-making. Open Source for America believes that open source software is an invaluable resource to agencies as they accomplish their mission. There is also a tremendous opportunity to capture the innovation and ingenuity of government employees, who have the means to create their own tools to make themselves more effective, rather than waiting for a cumbersome and unresponsive procurement process. Open source software is, in fact, the most concrete form of participation available to the government’s constituents and its employees.

Government agencies should be reminded that in almost all cases, open source software meets the definition of commercial computer software and shall be given appropriate statutory consideration in accordance with US Law (see 10 USC 2377 – reference (b) and FAR 2.101(b), 12.000, 12.101-reference (c))

  • Agencies should provide a means to receive unsolicited suggestions for free and open source software tools and software that can help them accomplish their missions.
  • Agencies should encourage competitive bid reviews for procurements and clearly identify and explain all sole-source procurement decisions on the agency website.
  • Agency procurement rules should explicitly reject preferences for development models.
  • Agencies should publish lists of “approved products,” including open source software and open data, available for agency procurement, where they exist.
  • Agencies should have a mechanism for efficiently responding to public input through online sources.
  • Agencies should formally define open standards to ensure that they are unencumbered, and give preference in procurements to implementations of such open standards where they exist. The OSI open standards definition provides the requisite starting point:

COLLABORATION – Collaboration between agencies and its constituents is often conducted through comments on proposed rule-making and advisory councils. Open Source for America believes that while citizen participation is important, a deep and ongoing collaboration with its constituents helps agencies become more responsive and accountable to their constituents. Open Source for America believes that free and open source software provides a concrete and immediate means for an agency to work with its constituents.

  • Agencies should use community-promoting online tools, such as wikis, forums and social media, to solicit public input and feedback on policy and procurement.
  • Agencies should encourage federal employees and contractors to participate in open source software development initiatives where such efforts contribute to the government mission.
  • Agencies should have policy guidance promoting the identification and removal of any improper barriers to the agencies’ effective development and use of open source software.
  • Agencies should facilitate the sharing of software source code and associated design documents across each agency and with the public, as has been done with at the DOD.
  • Agencies should have policies encouraging and clarifying the circumstances permitting the sharing of software code, code fixes and code enhancements with the larger community, as has been done with NHIN Connect at HHS and Virtual USA at DHS.

TRANSPARENCY – Open Source for America strongly believes that a more transparent government is more efficient and accountable to its constituents. Under the Open Government Directive, transparency means the prompt release of government documents and data to the Internet. Such releases increase accountability, and also provide a tremendous opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship. Open data from the National Weather Service, for example, has created a multi-billion dollar weather forecasting industry. We believe that transparency can be much more. Open tools, like open data, can spur innovation, increase accountability, and make the government more efficient.

  • Agencies should make taxpayer-funded source code available to the public and other agencies, as DISA has done with its Open Source Corporate Management System and DOE with distributed computing and energy estimation source code.
  • Agency budget and procurement details should be clearly published on public web sites and easily downloaded.
  • Agencies should conduct regular reviews of classified and non-classified materials, including software, to encourage declassification wherever possible, and restrict access only by exception.
  • Published content should be digitally signed or included attestation of publications/creation date, authenticity and integrity.
  • Agencies should publish on their website, private sponsorships for fact-finding trips and receipt of all free “product samples,” goods or services received from outside parties related to software manufacturing or procurement.
  • Agencies should publish on their website, logs that inform the public of ex parte policy discussions and would-be vendor solicitations.
  • Agencies should use and accept open file format standards for all external communications including when seeking public input or announcing agency policy.
  • All agency publications and data should be distributed in royalty-free or non-patent-encumbered formats, regardless of what other formats the data and publications are available.

This is an OSFA Proposed Guidelines for Open Government Plans – Version 1.0 – February 2010, published under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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