White House wants agencies to open source their code

Federal agencies would also swap code with each other

The Capitol Building

The US government is deepening its commitment to open source principles, proposing that federal agencies share software tools and release their code to developers.

By the start of July, all federal agencies will be required to release at least 20 per cent of the software they have had specially developed.

While 20 per cent is the minimum requirement, agencies are "strongly encouraged to publish as much custom-developed code as possible to further the Federal Government's commitment to transparency, participation, and collaboration".

"This collaborative atmosphere makes it easier to conduct software peer review and security testing, to reuse existing solutions, and to share technical knowledge," the paper, titled Federal Source Code Policy - Achieving Efficiency, Transparency, and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software, read.

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The proposals refer to third-party code, as software developed in-house is designated as public domain by default.

The government is also attempting to encourage greater collaboration between agencies, by making them share software with each other. The policy is intended to eliminate some of the federal government's $9 billion annual software spend.

Under the new proposal, agencies will require the delivery of the full source code - as well as all documentation and distribution rights - for any software it commissions, which can then be re-used across the federal government.

"Enhanced reuse of custom-developed code across the federal government," the report read, "such as reducing federal vendor lock-in, decreasing duplicative costs for the same code, [and] increasing transparency across the federal government."

Agencies will also be required to limit the amount of custom code purchased, by following a three-step plan when looking at their software needs.

This plan involves examining existing government software and pre-built commercial packages as potential alternatives to custom code, as well as looking at cloud computing solutions.

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In order to help federal agencies adopt the new practices, the government will be establishing a repository of tools and resources - dubbed 'Project Open Source' - within the next three months.

Naturally, some tools and agencies - primarily those relating to national security - will be exempt from the new policy.

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