Open source in government: Who was first?

Brian Purchia of Burson-Marsteller has a post here on GovFresh about the value of open source to unions. His argument pivots on cost-savings. I think you could make a more expansive argument that includes risk mitigation and innovation, but describing the advantage to unions is an interesting angle I hadn’t seen before.

I noticed that Brian repeated the misunderstanding that San Francisco had the nation’s first open source policy. I don’t want to diminish his larger argument, but it’s important that we give credit where credit’s due. So for the record:

  • July 1, 2004: OMB issues OMB-04-16, making clear that open source can be used in the Federal Government
  • October 16, 2009: The US Department of Defense CIO issues a memo reiterating that open source software is commercial software for procurement purposes, and encouraging DOD branches to include open source when they’re picking software.
  • September 30 2009: Portland, OR is the first city to issue an open source policy.
  • January 7, 2010: California‘s open source policy is published.
  • February 1, 2010: San Francisco, CA issues their open source policy.

These are just what I could find, of course. If you know of others, let me know! If you’d like to see a comprehensive history of open source battles in national and state governments around the world, CSIS maintains an annual survey intuitively titled “Government Open Source Policies“. Even just skimming it, you’ll be surprised at how little progress the United States has made in open source policymaking.

About Gunnar Hellekson

I’m the Chief Technology Strategist for Red Hat’s US Public Sector group, where I work with systems integrators and government agencies to encourage the use of open source software in government. I was recently named co-chair of Open Source for America and one of Federal Computer Week’s Fed 100 for 2010. I’m an active member of the Military Open Source working group, the RHCE Loopback, and a GTO-21 commissioner. I also help run Red Hat’s gov-sec mailing list. I perk up when people talk about cross-domain security, edge innovation, and interagency collaboration through the open source model. Prior to joining Red Hat, I worked as a developer, systems administrator, and IT director for a series of internet businesses. I’ve also been a business and IT consultant to not-for-profit organizations in New York City. During that time, I spearheaded the reform of safety regulations for New York State’s electrical utilities following the tragic death of Jodie Lane. When I’m not spreading the Good News about open source, I’m wishing I had a dog. You can find what I’m reading on Goodreads, what I’m saying on Twitter, and what I’m listening to on

3 Responses

  1. DoD was way ahead of those that you’ve listed. To head off the large company lobbyist who were pushing congress to prevent the use of FOSS in the Government. DISA sponsored and contributed to a Miter study on Use of Free and Open-Source Software in the DoD that was release in January 2003. and

    This led to the initial DoD CIO policy that officially approved the use of FOSS in May 2003:

  2. Leigh

    Hi Gunnar,
    I’m working on a paper about the history of open government and thank you for this piece. The open gov history is a bit murky and this helped! I also found a source for published reports, for those who are interested, regarding making geospatial data open. While more technical, they are fundamental to understanding why it is even possible (computer related) to have some data open.



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