Finally! SecDef signs Clarifying Guidance Regarding Open Source Software

by David Lane

It is official! As of the 16th of October 2009, the United States Department of Defense recognizes Open Source software as Commodity, Off the Shelf (COTS) software, eligible for purchase, read implementation, under the purchasing rules of the Department.

Why is this a big deal? Because, until this point, using Open Source software in any form within the DOD and associated programs required a great deal of scrutiny and in many cases, it meant that it could not be used. Now, before you jump up and tell me about this or that program, yes, Open Source software is used in a number of areas – many in custom applications, but the use is program by program, at the discretion of the program office. Just because on program office says yes to Open Office, does not mean that another program office can use Open Office automatically, even if the mission statement is essentially the same. I am greatly simplifying the issue – the intricacies of the Federal Acquisition Register are frankly byzantine even for those that understand it. This now allows program and departmental level organizations to be able to compete, in a true, fair and open competition the best solution for the mission, and that is a big deal, because up until now, that has not been the case.

As a side note, this memo was discussed in a meeting of Open Source folks I attended in DC more than two years ago. Then it was stuck in the Secretary of the Navy’s office, having been drafted by the staff of the Office of the Naval CIO. The big question everyone was asking at the time was not when would SecNav sign it, but when would SecDef sign it.

This has been a long time coming.