Open Source in eGovernment


I'm speaking next week at the Open Source in eGovernment workshop in Washington DC and I'm stating to put some thoughts together for it.

One thing that caught my eye was this news report on a bill that has been introduced in Oregon regarding open source software. This bill is not as draconian as a similar bill that was introduced in California (and has yet to pass). The California bill would have mandated open source software. The Oregon merely requires that open source be on the acceptable software list.

While I was Utah's CIO I worked to get open source software included on our acceptable use list. Last November, the ITPSC approved an IT Product Standards list as part of Utah's Technical Architecture. For example, jBOSS, Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, openLDAP, Linux, Samba, Snort, and StarOffice are all OK to use (wish we'd said OpenOffice instead---oh well).

I think I've told this story before, but shortly after I arrived at the CIO's post, we had a long series of meetings to decide on intrusion detection systems for the State in preparation for the upcoming Olympics. We saw some pretty outrageous bids from some vendors and I finally asked the stupid question: "Why don't we just use snort?" Utah's security guru said simply "I didn't think it would be acceptable." I told him it was and that's what we used. Often people need to be told its OK to use open source software.

Back to Oregon, there's a lesson for open source proponents in Oregon in the recent passage of HB 240, which establishes a fund of funds in Utah. I wish I could have filmed the process and made a documentary for techies who want to interact with government because this was a model effort. The article on Oregon says:

Introducing a bill -- about open source or anything else -- is only the beginning of the process. "All that means is you've gotten the attention of one legislator," Barnhart points out. He says the next stage is to catch the eye of a committee chairman and get hearings held about your bill...Assuming the committee report is favorable, the bill is voted on by the entire legislature. And then, if it passes, the show moves to the state senate. And, finally, the governor must sign the bill before it becomes law. It's a long and tedious process. To give you an example of the odds, 4000 bills or more can be introduced in a single legislative session, while only a few hundred new laws come out of each session.
This was true in spades of HB240 because it was financially complicated. Its almost unheard of for a bill as complex as HB240 to get through the first year. Rich Nelson, Nichole Davis, and Jerry Oldroyd of UITA did a masterful job of shepherding the bill, meeting with legislators, rounding up support, organizing CEOs to testify at committee meetings, informing interested bystanders like me, and encouraging public input. In the end, it was the near single-minded efforts of this group over a period of two months that led to HB240 being passed. If the Oregon open source community wants this bill, you can't just sit back and hope something happens. Appoint a leader who knows at least a little about the legislative process and go hang out at the Capitol. Get behind it and make sure your legislators know you care. Make this your quest.

Photo courtesy of CB Photography. Used with permission, kind of...