Open Source and the US Government

December 19, 2012

I read “DARPA and Defense Department Look to a More Open Source Future.” Interesting. The idea is that in the opinion of some US DOD insiders, open source software is starting to look pretty darned good. Open source does not mean just software, however. Open source “models” can be applied to “hardware, making vehicles into adaptable platforms for different missions.”

I am on board with the idea. As I worked through the write up, several thoughts crossed my mind.

First, the enthusiasm for open source strikes me as a lack of enthusiasm with proprietary methods which have long be the “go to” approach for many US government agencies.

Second, the funding provided by In-Q-Tel may have to shift from the interesting but proprietary methods used by some companies receiving funding from the US government. If one wants to change how management applies its talents, the incentives have to be in the compensation plan. Can In-Q-Tel increase its support for open source companies of promise?

Third, the problem in most government organizations is that systems are islands. Even when systems allegedly interact seamlessly, the island approach becomes the dominant feature of the agency landscape. Why? The compensation incentives reward certain behaviors.

My view is that open source is good to talk about. But until the executive compensation for government managers are changed, it will remain silo-time.

Stephen E Arnold, December 19, 2012


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