Linux in Government: The Government Open Code Collaborative
Have you ever heard the cliche about prisoners running the asylum? Well, this gated and restrictive organization fits. Get a group of academics together with management and grow the group in the infertile soil of bureaucracy, and you will spend almost all of your time waiting. Watching the group from a distance over the past year reminds one of inexperienced farmers trying to plant a field of corn by reading books.
GOCC.gov is a Cathedral trying to say it's a Bazaar. You might as well call the Java programming language open-source software. GOCC.gov goes through the motion of calling itself an open-source collaboration, yet it excludes the people that can bring the vision to fruition.
GOCC.gov ignores the existing base of software by excluding vendors from donating their solutions. It excludes contributors from the Linux and Open Source community not affiliated with a government or academic entity. So where will it find the people with the skills to develop the repository? Within its own infrastructure? Perhaps you now see why I used the cliche about asylums.
Can anyone see a business model here? Read the GOCC.gov charter and you discover that it has built one more bureaucracy to oversee its existing bureaucracy, with oversight over the new bureaucracy. What else would one expect?
In an article titled "IBM: 'Inertia' holding back government desktop Linux adoption", the executives of Big Blue identify inertia as the primary reason governments haven't adopted open-source solutions in England. IBM's public sector business development executive Jeremy Wray said, "[the] single biggest factor holding back government departments from migrating to the Linux desktop is inertia. At the moment public sector departments lack a compelling reason to act." Unwittingly, he has described a property of all bureaucratic organizations, one that IBM itself has helped foster. If bureaucracies don't have a problem to manage, they have no reason to exist.
The idea of inertia comes from Newton's first law. One definition identifies inertia as "the property of an object describing its tendency to stay at the same velocity (or at rest) unless a force acts on it". So inertia is a property, not a cause. Inertia is a property of bureaucracies, and it doesn't change unless acted on.
If you want to see how vigorous GOCC.gov has been over the past year, look at its list of software. That's right, you're looking at five pieces of software, one of which is an application. That's what GOCC.gov has accomplished in one year. If you think that's strange, consider also that it took this "Collaborative" six months to announce it existed.
Now, drop down to the membership list and look at the contributions from Texas. Click on that link, and you get "There are currently no items in this folder".
The CIO of my great state has taken some pride in letting people know that the "Texas Open Source Bill" hasn't passed and won't pass. As she has said in public, "it's dead". Yet, within Texas, the Department of Information Resources touts its open-source sharing plan, as seen here.
One of the touted programs in Texas is the Governor's Office database of solutions for free source code. When you visit the Web site, you find the same solutions that have existed for two years. You also can find the same testimonial that has existed for the same time period. This is an attempt to say they have all these pieces together so the legislature won't force the issue as they tried in 2003. Unfortunately, the Senator sponsoring SB 1579 understands the issues and plans to act in 2005.
In its present condition, GOCC.gov cannot work. In a closed community, a member must receive some benefit to join. If I join and contribute software, what do I receive in return? If the operation is gated and closed and I must provide software support, I at least need to be able to swap for something in return. If I can download any software for free without becoming a member, why would I want to expose my organization to legal liability? When you look at the GOCC Operating Agreement and at the organization, someone outside of the Collaborative--"the Member contributing code"--assumes liability for the code working. Why would I want to do that?
Read the GOCC Operating Agreement to get an idea of the restrictions placed on those who can contribute code and their responsibilities. The restrictions and the lack of incentive provide no cost-benefit ratio. Governments have accountability to their constituents, and GOCC.gov needs to ask two simple questions: Why do constituents have to be the first ones to pay for the application, spend the money supporting it and risk liability? And what do they get in return?