Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Open-Source Benefits to Govt Outweigh Misconceptions, Report Says

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, November 27 2013

DC.gov, running on Drupal

Security challenges, lack of education, interoperability concerns and licensing and legal concerns are some of the top obstacles government officials see for adopting open-source software in agencies, according to a survey in a recent report from GovLoop.

In the survey of 233 government professionals, 73 percent mentioned security issues, 60 percent lack of education, 58 percent interoperability concerns and 50 percent licensing and legal concerns. The survey focused on U.S. respondents but also included some respondents from outside the U.S.

Of the respondents, 38 percent are using open-source at a basic level, 30 percent are not using such tools but would like to learn more, 20 percent are using open-source tools to meet agency goals and 12 percent are exploring ways of implementing open-source tools.

Respondents named improved efficiency and productivity, being able to gain software improvements from the open-source community, easy information exchange and replication options as benefits. They highlighted the ways that open-source software allows agencies to avoid dealing with proprietary vendors, outdated applications and updates from software vendors.

Govloop's report highlights open-source uses across the country and federal government using platforms such as WordPress and Drupal. "Austintexas.gov is the city of Austin’s official website and is built using Drupal," an employee from the city said. In D.C, "we have successfully implemented Drupal 7 as the District’s enterprise content management system for DC.gov, the government’s web portal,” an employee said. Another employee from the city of Arvada, Colo., responded that "we have successfully implemented an open-source content management system written by the city of Arvada and we are sharing the code. We also use Joomla! for our intranet."

A federal government employee responded to the survey explaining the architecture of Data.gov:

Data.gov runs entirely on open source. We started out on Drupal and now we are moving to WordPress. Our data catalog is [based on the Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network] (headed by the Open Knowledge Foundation). We put all our custom development in GitHub, [a web-based hosting service]. Our open data interchange format (data.json) is crowdsourced via project open data. We run on Linux and use open-source databases like MySQL and Post-GreSQL.

Other respondents pointed out how the Department of Energy joined with the National Renewable Energy Labaratory to use a OpenStudio Application Suite for energy modeling and how USAID uses OpenStreetMap as a "base layer" for its work. "In many cases, in very poor and/or rural areas around the world, OSM represents the best geospatial option, better even than Google Maps or Microsoft’s Bing Maps," an agency employee responded. "This freely available, freely licensed data saves the agency a lot of money in out-sourced maintenance and initial mapping.”

An employee from the Dutch government replied to the survey: “We use open source for our intranet. We work together with two other agencies, on the software of www.pleio.nl. They work for the total of the Dutch government and connect them through a social media 2.0 solution.”

In spite of the benefits, many of the respondents said misconceptions about open source software hindered its broader adoption. “One challenge is the lack of knowledge within government workforce, as some of the stated concerns, while held, are largely invalid or easily mitigated,” a respondent to the survey said. "A lot of the pushback will be from people who depend on and only know proprietary software. Offer trainings and learning opportunities to those people so they don’t feel threatened. Having the IT ‘grunts' support will go far when it comes to getting approval from higher up," another respondent said.

GovLoop's report also includes interviews with Chris Mattmann, senior computer scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Gunnar Hellekson, chief technology strategist at Red Hat’s U.S. public-sector business, discussing the benefits of open-source. Mattmann addresses the "myths" that open-source software is lower quality than proprietary software and that it allows outsiders to modify code. "In the next three to five years, open-source will be the standardized architecture at NASA,” Mattmann says in the report. He also believes implementing open-source software will help attract top employees especially when agencies can't compete with the salaries of the private sector. He also points out that use of open-source software will make it easier to work with the emerging fields of big data, cloud and mobile applications. “Ninety percent of cloud vendors are based on an open-source stack,” Mattmann says in the report, adding that it is also becoming the "default way to process commoditized and valued data," to the point that “open-source will be mission-critical."

“Open-source gives the agency a way out,” a respondent to the survey said. “They can develop new features in house, hire someone to maintain their applications or find another branch of the source. Open source may require more resources to maintain, but it certainly has benefits in the long term.”

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

thursday >

In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.

GO

The #NotABugSplat Campaign Aims to Give Drone Operators Pause Before They Strike

In the #NotABugSplat campaign that launched this week, a group of American, French and Pakistani artists sought to raise awareness of the effects of drone strikes by placing a field-sized image of a young girl, orphaned when a drone strike killed her family, in a heavily targeted region of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Its giant size is visible to those who operate drone strikes as well as in satellite imagery. GO

Boston and Cambridge Move Towards More Open Data

The Boston City Council is now considering an ordinance which would require Boston city agencies and departments to make government data available online using open standards. Boston City Councilor At Large Michelle Wu, who introduced the legislation Wednesday, officially announced her proposal Monday, the same day Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued an executive order establishing an open data policy under which all city departments are directed to publish appropriate data sets under established accessibility, API and format standards. GO

YouTube Still Blocked In Turkey, Even After Courts Rule It Violates Human Rights, Infringes on Free Speech

Reuters reports that even after a Turkish court ruled to lift the ban on YouTube, Turkey's telecommunications companies continue to block the video sharing site.

GO

wednesday >

Everything You Need to Know About Social Media and India's General Election

The biggest democratic election in the world to date is taking place in India from April 7 to May 14, and, for the first time in India, the results might hinge on who runs a better social media campaign. The Mumbai research firm Iris Knowledge Foundation has said that Facebook will “wield a tremendous influence” but Indian politicians are not limiting their attentions to India's most popular social media platform. In addition to virtual campaigning are initiatives to inform, educate and encourage Indians to participate in their democracy.

GO

EU Court Rejects Data Retention Law, But Data Retention Won't End Overnight

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg struck down a data retention law Tuesday that required telecoms to keep customers' communications data for up to two years, declaring it violated privacy rights. However, experts warn that the ruling will have no automatic effect on relevant laws in member states, which could lead to “messy consequences.”

GO

More