David A. Wheeler's Blog

Tue, 27 Oct 2009

New DoD memo on Open Source Software

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has just released Clarifying Guidance Regarding Open Source Software (OSS), a new official memo about open source software (OSS). This 2009 memo should soon be posted on the list of ASD(NII)/DoD CIO memorandums. This 2009 memo is important for anyone who works with the DoD (including contractors) on software and systems that include software… and I suspect it will influence many other organizations as well. Let me explain why this new memo exists, and what it says.

Back in 2003 the DoD released a formal memo titled Open Source Software (OSS) in the Department of Defense. This older memo was supposed to make it clear that it was fine to use and develop OSS in the DoD. Unfortunately, as the new 2009 memo states, “there have been misconceptions and misinterpretations of the existing laws, policies and regulations that deal with software and apply to OSS that have hampered effective DoD use and development of OSS”.

This new 2009 memo simply explains “the implications and meaning of existing laws, policies and regulations”, hopefully eliminating many of those misconceptions and misinterpretations. A lot of the “meat” is in the Attachment 2, section 2 (guidance), so let’s walk through that:

But perhaps most important is this memo’s opening statement: “To effectively achieve its missions, the Department of Defense must develop and update its software-based capabilities faster than ever, to anticipate new threats and respond to continuously changing requirements. The use of Open Source Software (OSS) can provide advantages in this regard…”. As with the later part (b), here we have an official government document acknowledging that OSS can have a significant advantage. What’s more, these potential advantages aren’t necessarily just minor cost savings; OSS can in some cases provide a military advantage. Which is a more-than-adequate justification for considering OSS, as I have been advocating for years.

I’m really delighted that this memo has finally been released. I participated in the original brainstorming meeting to create this memo (as did John Scott), and I reviewed many versions of it, but many, many other hands have stirred this pot since it began. It took over 18 months to create it and get it out; getting this coordinated was a very long and drawn-out process. My thanks to everyone who worked to help make this happen. In particular, congrats go to Dan Risacher, who led this project to its successful completion.

By the way, if you’re interested in the issue of open source software in the U.S. military/national defense, you probably should look at Mil-OSS (at least, join their mailing list, and consider going to their upcoming conference; I was a speaker at their last one). If you’re interested in the connection between open source software and the U.S. government (including the military), you might also be interested in the upcoming GOSCON conference on November 5, 2009 (I’m one of the speakers there too).

path: /oss | Current Weblog | permanent link to this entry