Linux in State Government

Last week I was out jogging with my buddy who works in IT for the State of Michigan here in Lansing where I live. After reading about how many governmental entities worldwide are vigorously promoting FOSS, I was disappointed to hear from my friend that my own state has not been in the FOSS vanguard.

My database admin friend Rick - his name pseudonymed to protect the innocent - says that although his department doesn't have a single instance of FOSS, he and nearly all of his co-workers would jump ship to FOSS if they could. However, Rick says that decisions regarding technology implementations are nearly 100% political decisions with almost no input coming from internal staff. The age-old dynamic appears to still apply - Microsoft and other giants come in and make deals with low up-front costs and big long-term ones. Those deals are probably aided by nepotistic connections and kick-backs. That's a tough syndicate against which to compete.

This situation taking place a few blocks from my home makes me so angry because I feel strongly that FOSS can play a huge role in better, more efficient and more transparent government. Implementing FOSS is an excellent way for the public to know what it is getting for its money, to save money (usually), to promote open standards and to reduce the tempting corruption that occurs between well-heeled vendors and government officials.

The fact that the above advantages have not seeped into the brains of Rick's ultimate supervisor tells me that we need to organize ourselves and educate our elected officials. I suspect that many politicians still just don't know that alternatives to overpriced proprietary software indeed exist. Since much of the decision-making is done at the agency level, I suspect our most potent strategy would be to promote legislation requiring agencies to perform a cost-benefit analysis on big technology upgrades that includes FOSS options. Requirements such as this make it much harder for agencies to justify spending more money and decreasing transparency.

I hope that someday Rick gets his wish to be using FOSS applications at work. He told me he would be so pumped to be using PostgreSQL every day. If every state had aggressive policies promoting FOSS, Rick could live his dream, and imagine how much it would push forward the development of all of those applications, making them ever better for everyone.

Alright, now that I'm worked up, I'm going down to my state senator's office to raise some hell. Who's with me!

______________________

James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal

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