Open Source for America (OSFA) recently published a report card on open technology and open government across several U.S. federal government departments and agencies. Find out which departments scored the highest grades, and what your company can learn from them.

One third of agencies received a passing grade
OSFA, a coalition launched in July 2009 to encourage U.S. federal government support of and participation in open source projects and technologies, worked with government departments and agencies to develop the methodology and rate each group.

According to OSFA, 2010 marked the first year federal government agencies were operating under the Directive and Open Government Plans.

The 2010 Federal Open Technology Report Card serves as a measure by which fifteen federal departments and agencies can measure their progress against goals supported by the open government directive.

According to the OSFA, the Report Card assigned a percentage grade to the 15 Cabinet-level departments and agencies use of open source technologies, open formats, and technology tools for citizen engagement. Agencies with scores over 50 percent included:

  • Department of Defense (82 percent)
  • Department of Energy (72 percent)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (55 percent)
  • Department of Homeland Security (55 percent)
  • Department of Transportation (53 percent)

The remaining 10 agencies and departments scored between 49 and 37 percent. Said differently, only one-third of agencies and departments evaluated received a passing grade. Take a look at the criteria, specifically the open technologies questions, to see if your company would fare better than these 10 agencies and departments.

Learning from the Department of Defense
The Department of Defense (DOD) achieved the highest ranking, with a score of 23 out of possible 28, stands out in the report card for several reasons.

First, the DOD has documented policies for selecting and acquiring, what the report identifies as open technologies. This includes both open source products and products that offer open file formats.

Second, the DOD provides guidance for employees wishing to participate in open source projects.

While these two policies would appear to be meets minimum requirements for today’s IT department, they’re not.

Recall results from the 2010 Eclipse User Survey which identified a strikingly low proportion of companies that allow their employees to contribute to open source projects. It could be argued that those companies, like the DOD, have an open source contribution policy. Unlike the DOD, these companies simply state, no contributions are allowed. Hardly the type of policy that developers will get excited about.

IT decision makers are encouraged to follow in the DOD’s example and set a policy, along with related processes and safe guards, for employees to contribute to open source projects. Consider using offerings and best practices from vendors such as Black Duck Software and Protecode to ensure that your developers are contributing and consuming open source code in a fashion that protects your company’s intellectual property rights and prevents copyright infringement. Doing so will keep your developers happy and help encourage innovation, within and outside of your company; a win-win-win strategy.

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