With the federal government’s increasing reliance on information technology (IT) and software solutions as a central element to carrying out its mission and delivering services to citizens, the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS) understands OMB’s efforts to address open source software. This week the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) closed the comment period on their draft Federal Source Code Policy-Achieving Efficiency, transparency and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software, which establishes guidance on how agencies will procure custom software.
In our comments, ITAPS identified areas that innovation solutions providers support in the proposal, and in others we recommended needed improvements or asked OMB to clarify as they adjudicate the comments they receive and refine this policy. For example, ITAPS strongly supports OMB’s efforts to emphasize that agencies should leverage commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions first before attempting to procure a custom software solution. We believe this approach, providing preference to existing federal software solutions (e.g. federal shared services or existing reusable code) or a purchasable off-the-shelf software solution is sufficient, but OMB has never enforced this long standing requirement. Relying on COTS will allow the government to take advantage of industry’s best solutions.
While some federal procurement contracts lead to the custom development of an entire IT solution, it is customary for a software vendor to customize its commercial code for government purposes. However, our members are concerned with the lack of clarity around the meaning of “custom code” in this proposal. The draft policy does not set out a definition of what constitutes custom code, and it raises significant concerns over whether companies will be asked to hand over rights to their commercial source code and to their valuable commercial, intellectual property.
We encourage OMB to continue to promote the preference for COTS products in government acquisition in compliance with existing law. We also encourage OMB to ensure that any open source code policy requirements are clearly set forth to allow commercial items to fulfill them to the maximum extent practicable and ensure that its terms and conditions align with commercial practices.