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Federal Source Code Policy: Achieving Efficiency, Transparency, and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software

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Citation Edit

Office of Management and Budget, Federal Source Code Policy: Achieving Efficiency, Transparency, and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software (OMB Memorandum M-16-21) (Aug. 8, 2016) (full-text).

Overview Edit

When Federal agencies are unable to identify an existing Federal or commercial software solution that satisfies their specific needs, they may choose to develop a custom software solution on their own or pay for its development. When agencies procure custom-developed source code, however, they do not necessarily make their new code (source code or code) broadly available for Federal Government-wide reuse. Even when agencies are in a position to make their source code available on a Government-wide basis, they do not make such code available to other agencies in a consistent manner. In some cases, agencies may even have difficulty establishing that the software was produced in the performance of a Federal Government contract. These challenges may result in duplicative acquisitions for substantially similar code and an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars.

This policy seeks to address these challenges by ensuring that new custom-developed Federal source code be made broadly available for reuse across the Federal Government. This is consistent with the Digital Government Strategy's "Shared Platform" approach, which enables Federal employees to work together — both within and across agencies — to reduce costs, streamline development, apply uniform standards, and ensure consistency in creating and delivering information. Enhanced reuse of custom-developed code across the Federal Government can have significant benefits for American taxpayers, including decreasing duplicative costs for the same code and reducing Federal vendor lock-in.

This policy also establishes a pilot program that requires agencies, when commissioning new custom software, to release at least 20% of new custom-developed code as Open Source Software (OSS) for three years, and collect additional data concerning new custom software to inform metrics to gauge the performance of this pilot.

[A]gencies that enter into contracts for the custom development of software shall — at a minimum — acquire and enforce rights sufficient to enable Government-wide reuse of custom-developed code . . . [and] must obtain sufficient rights to custom-developed code to fulfill the open source release objectives of this policy's pilot program.

While the benefits of enhanced Federal custom-developed code reuse are significant, additional benefits can accrue when source code is also made available to the public as OSS. Making source code available as OSS can enable continual improvement of Federal custom-developed code projects as a result of a broader user community implementing the code for its own purposes and publishing improvements. This collaborative atmosphere can make it easier to conduct software peer review and security testing, to reuse existing solutions, and to share technical knowledge. Furthermore, vendors participating in or competing for future maintenance or enhancement can do so with full knowledge of the underlying source code. A number of private sector companies have already shifted some of their software development projects to an OSS model, in which the source code of the software is made broadly available to the public for inspection, improvement, and reuse.

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