The Federal Government Needs to Embrace Open Standards

Posted by Brian Paget, Technical Director for Public Sector

As a long-standing supporter of the open source community, Adobe welcomes the OMB’s new draft policy on the federal government’s use of open source software. The long-rumored policy, known as the Federal Source Code Policy – Achieving Efficiency, Transparency and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software, reminds us of the importance of understanding the different roles of open source and proprietary software in the federal government’s overall IT strategy.

In a mature IT governance structure, proprietary, open source and mixed source technologies each play an important role for the federal government. Balancing the use of these differing technologies is critical for the successful deployment of software across the federal government enterprise. Swinging the pendulum too far in one direction or the other based upon ideology rather than program requirements is detrimental to the health of government IT programs.

Adobe believes strongly that open source, open development and open standards play a critical role in fostering innovation and aims to build products that are open and standards compliant. Adobe developers also contribute to a number of open projects and standards. Dr. Roy Fielding, Senior Principal Scientist at Adobe and co-founder of the Apache HTTP Server Project, is a pioneer in the open source community and has consulted with the U.S. Government about the development of the modern World Wide Web infrastructure, innovation, policy and a wide-range of technology issues. In February, Adobe also released the Digital Design Templates for Government, an open source package that enables public sector website managers to quickly deploy U.S. Digital Service and 18F draft U.S. Web Design Standards.

At its core, the proposed OMB policy aims to ensure that the government gets the most cost effective solution to a specific requirement by addressing custom source code developed for the federal government, either in-house or via a contractor. It states that such custom code should be heavily invested in open source. At Adobe, we support the goals of this policy and believe that it will assist government in saving taxpayer money by more effectively leveraging the investment that is made in customizing and configuring software and reducing duplication.

However, beyond open source, the important principles of open development and open standards must be rigorously applied. The bundling of open source software with open standards and open API’s ensures data transparency, portability and interoperability. Open standards ensure that software developed by one vendor can effectively interoperate with software developed by a government agency or another software vendor. This enables a level of interoperability that is critical to successful deployment of software in government and provides assurances beyond those provided by open source.

Federal CIO leadership must understand that open standards are needed to fully realize the potential of cloud and increase competition among providers of cloud technologies, helping to reduce vendor and technology ecosystem lock-in. Over time, this will lead to increased choice and lower prices for consumers.