The U.S. government has long had a reputation for slowness to adapt to new technologies. The massive size and scope of federal bureaucracy slows the government's reaction time. Yet despite this reputation, there are plenty of examples of government departments taking proactive steps to embrace new IT initiatives in order to improve their performance and capabilities.
Open source software is a case in point. As InfoWorld contributor Matt Assay recently highlighted, the government now recognizes the potential value inherent to open source solutions and is increasingly turning to these offerings rather than proprietary tools.
Open source initiatives
To emphasize the government's newfound appreciation for open source software, Assay pointed to GitHub's government evangelist, Ben Balter. Balter revealed that GitHub now has more than 10,000 active government users on its network. This represents a tremendous amount of growth, as GitHub had fewer than half that number of government users last year.
Furthermore, Assay noted that these users have created nearly 8,000 GitHub repositories for government services.
"While many of these repositories likely house somewhat useless code, similar to nongovernment open source repositories, it's a clear signal of intent," Assay explained.
The writer also pointed out that the federal government recently initiated a new IT guiding principle which instructs agency leaders to always default to open source when looking at new technology. He quoted the U.S. Digital Services Playbook, which states that "[b]y building services more openly and publishing open data, we simplify the public's access to government services and information, allow the public to easily provide fixes and contributions, and enable reuse by entrepreneurs, nonprofits, other agencies and the public."
Clearly, the establishment of such a policy, along with the growing prevalence of government user's GitHub repositories, points to a significant shift across the government as a whole. Open source solutions are quickly becoming standardized.
However, Assay cautioned that open source in the government still has a long way to go. Notably, there is still the issue of a lack of open source experience among government personnel. Lorelei Kelly, a research fellow at the Open Technology Institute, told the writer that many IT professionals simply assume everyone who works for the government must know what open source is, but this is not the case. Instead, it is predominantly the younger personnel who have an understanding of open source technology.
While this bodes well for the distant future, it presents a major challenge in the short-term. If older government employees don't even really know what open source is, they can't be expected to embrace and effectively leverage these resources.
Accepting open source
However, this does not mean that government agency leaders cannot hope to fully embrace open source software in their departments. Rather, decision-makers must take steps to make the use of open source as simple and effective as possible.
Education must play a major role here. Government employees should have the opportunity to attend classes and receive training to help them understand and take advantage of open source. There are inevitably many workers who are intimidated by these tools but, with a little exposure, would realize how simple and beneficial open source software can be.
Additionally, government agencies need to invest in the right supplemental tools to guarantee open source software's effectiveness. A key resource in this capacity is scanning technology. With high-quality scanning, departments can quickly and effectively discover any potential vulnerabilities before they cause problems, thereby ensuring that no government workers run into serious complications when leveraging open source tools. Such reliability is a key advantage of open source, but only possible with the right resources in place.