Most often, when we talk about open source in government, it’s talked about in one of two ways: either it’s the pitfalls of the federal IT procurement model that can’t seem to comprehend a world in which open-source is an option, much less potentially a superior choice (“acquisition as a roadblock“), or it’s reiterating the same open-source talking points that haven’t seemed to give open source much parity with the wall of organizational inertia proprietary software seems to have gained over the years (“open source as an alternative“).
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), however, is in a unique position. As the newest kid on the block, it’s one of the few government agencies to have been born in a digital era, and more importantly, without the bureaucratic baggage that all too often stymies innovation. They have a chance to “do it right” from the start… and they’re doing just that.
An Agency Born of the Internet Generation
Yesterday, CFPB announced a bureau-wide preference for open source in its shiny new Source Code Policy, by my crude research, a first for any government agency. There are two watershed shifts here: first, that the agency not only should, but must evaluate open source software on equal footing to its proprietary counterparts, a comparison which I believe will increasingly fall in open source’s favor, and second, that unless there’s an overriding security or similar concern not to, public code must be public. There’s nothing new here. All it says is that we should use the best software for the job (a no-brainier), and that that software, the public’s property, should belong to the public.
So why is this news? Plenty of government entities have released source code, or encouraged the use of open-source software. But no one has come out and plainly stated that they were an “open-source agency”, that open source is the new default, and that absent an affirmative step by some nay-sayer, that the public will have access to their code.That’s huge. It’s flipping the burden, and it’s the way things should be from the start.