US gov increasingly pursuing open source software development

As the U.S. government continues to increase its reliance on IT services, software development is becoming a critical focus. Software development plays a key role in countless aspects of government IT, from knowledge management to cybersecurity.

Speaking to Opensource.com, industry expert David Wheeler noted that one of the most significant trends occurring in this area is the rise of open source software development. With growing frequency, the federal government is turning to these strategies to meet its various IT needs.

Open source in the federal government
A long-time leader in the field of open source software, Wheeler noted that while there are no studies to confirm this shift, he believes there is significant anecdotal evidence to suggest federal agencies now consider and utilize open source software development far more now than in the past few years, the news source reported. Among the likely reasons for this shift is the entrance of younger IT professionals into the workforce.

"[Y]ounger people in IT are used to using OSS, so as they enter the workforce they come understanding OSS instead of being ignorant or resistant," Wheeler said, according to the news source.

Additionally, Wheeler pointed to budget constraints as another cause of the growing use of open source software. While open source is not free, it is often a more affordable option, he explained.

He told Opensource.com that the U.S. government is not only developing new open source projects, but also releases bug fixes and function improvements.

"These OSS projects are producing the kind of public/private partnerships that are often desired but difficult to achieve," he said, the source reported.

Open source challenges
However, for all the progress made by the government in terms of open source software development, significant challenges remain.

Wheeler argued that some government policies are to blame in this capacity. Most notably, he suggested that some of these principles prevent greater collaboration among U.S. universities and other organizations that form partnerships with the government, thereby stifling software development and innovation.

There is also the issue of cybersecurity. Notably, the recently discovered Heartbleed security flaw demonstrated the potential vulnerability of widely used open source software solutions. If such a flaw were to exist in government-created software, the potential data loss or theft could prove catastrophic.

By following best practices and working with reputable third-party software development firms, though, the U.S. government has the potential to see significant gains from its open source efforts.

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