Open Source for America Promotes FOSS for Government


As the US struggles with a continuing recession, both the private and public sectors are looking for ways to cut or mitigate operating costs, particularly in the arena of information technology.

Starting today, a new coalition of technology industry companies, organizations, and academic institutions will be actively promoting one sure way of cutting IT costs: using open source software and open technology solutions.

Open Source for America (OSFA) is a group of more than 50 organizations with the primary mission of “the promotion of open source software in the US Federal government arena,” according to a press statement from the new organization today.

OSFA will be announced today by Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, during his keynote presentation at OSCON. O’Reilly is a member of OSFA’s Board of Advisors, which includes a number of people from the Linux and free software community: Mitchell Baker, Eben Moglen, Simon Phipps, Mark Shuttleworth, Michael Tiemann, Andy Updegrove, and Jim Zemlin among them.

The membership roster for OSFA reads like a who’s who in the open source community, with members that include: Alfresco Software, AMD, Black Duck, Canonical, Google, Ingres, Jaspersoft, Mozilla Foundation, Novell, Oracle, O’Reilly, Red Hat, the Software Freedom Law Center, SugarCRM, Sun, and the Linux Foundation.

The formation of OSFA comes at an opportune time. Early in his administration, President Barack Obama tapped Sun Microsystem Chairman Scott McNeally to draft a paper on the benefits of open source software for government. With this keen interest from the executive branch, coupled with a strong legislative desire to reduce spending, the US government seems more receptive than ever to the adoption of open source software.

As a central advocate for free and open source software (FOSS), OSFA plans to boost US Federal government support and adoption of FOSS. This support will not be open source purely for open source’s sake. According to the OSFA’s website, “[OSFA does] not believe that the government should favor one type of technology over another. All we are asking is that government agencies consider open source software on an equal basis with proprietary software when choosing technology solutions.”

According to the organization’s announcement today, “Specifically, Open Source for America will: help effect change in policies and practices to allow the Federal government to better utilize these technologies; help coordinate these communities to collaborate with the Federal government on technology requirements; and raise awareness and create understanding among Federal government leaders about the values and implications of open source software.”

Serving as an educator for both government and the open source community will provide a key function in increasing FOSS adoption by government agencies. In a recent interview with, Caryn Fox, a director with McLean, Va.-based FedSources that provides consulting services for government contracts, indicated that it is important for open source developers and companies to learn how the government contract procurement and bidding processes work. A knowledge gap still exists, particularly among independent developers and small vendors will little or no government contacts.

If OSFA can coordinate Federal and private IT interests, it should go a long way towards bridging this gap.

Todd Weiss contributed to this story.