Members and staff may use official resources to participate in open source projects, procure and publish open source software
Until now, significant uncertainty surrounded whether or not open-source software, communications and code contributions are permitted within the U.S. Congress. That lack of clarity continues within the U.S. Senate. However, it has been determined that, in general, members and staff in the U.S. House, when conducting official business, now have a choice between using proprietary and closed technology and open-source solutions that are restriction-free, reusable and frequently more cost-effective.
While generally approved open-source software is new to the U.S. House, it is not new to the federal government. In September 2012, the Obama administration entered the open-source world by joining Github, declaring that:
We believe in using and contributing back to open-source software as a way of making it easier for the government to share data, improve tools and services, and return value to taxpayers. – WhiteHouse.gov/Developers
Within Congress, understanding of and support for open-source software has recently spiked. Over the coming weeks, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., plan to launch a House Open Source Caucus. In May 2015, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., submitted feedback on proposed procurement reform legislation via Github. On June 5, 2015, Republican Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers outlined her vision for a modern, efficient and effective Congress that is able to:
[C]reate an open-source solution for constituent communications that anyone could add on to. I would love to see a system that is open-source, with real time analytics, with social media and text messaging integrated in from the beginning.
In October 2014, the OpenGov Foundation, Sunlight Foundation and CDC jointly called for rules changes that would permit the use and publication of open-source software by House offices. Moving forward, we will continue to work with members of Congress, staff, legislative support agencies and all stakeholders to continue these efforts to create a more efficient, effective and open U.S. Congress.
“Adding open source options to the Congressional tech toolkit is a major step toward creating a 21st century legislature,” said Seamus Kraft, executive director of The OpenGov Foundation. “In the face of shrinking budgets and growing workloads, governments across America are increasingly turning to open-source solutions to help them serve better while spending less. #Hack4Congress showed us all that the open-source community is ready to do its part to help those working to innovate Congress from the inside. While much work needs to be done before members and staff can fully tap into the power of open source, we are excited to continue supporting those efforts however we can.”
“Purchasing only proprietary and closed technology leads to cost overruns on quickly outdated technologies,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. “Adding open-source software to our list of options will save money and allow Congress to build and improve on what already works, rather than constantly playing catch-up. Our constituents rightly expect more from us.”
“Open-source software presents so many exciting opportunities for members of Congress to more effectively represent and interact with their constituents,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). “By taking advantage of the newest technology and collaborating with the open-source community, we can improve everything from the accessibility of congressional websites to the efficiency of business on the House floor. Personally, I can’t wait to begin integrating open-source technology into my office’s daily operations.”
“I’m glad that the House of Representatives has finally opened the door to open-source software,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. “For over a decade, Individual coders and businesses around the country have been working with open-source software because of cost savings, productivity gains and the ability to modify the code to meet specialized needs. It’s past time that taxpayers see the same benefits. I applaud The OpenGov Foundation, the Sunlight Foundation and the Congressional Data Coalition for their efforts to make this happen, and I look forward to working through the Open Source Caucus to help educate my colleagues on how open-source software can benefit their offices and constituents.”
“We now have clear guidance on the use of open-source software in the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “Members of Congress and the open-source community can work collaboratively to improve online access to the Congress and bring the institution more in line with other flexible, modern organizations that use open-source solutions to realize cost-savings and greater efficiency.”
“For far too long, the halls of Congress have been closed to open source,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. “That changes today, and our office plans to embrace the open-source community on a range of projects that will enhance our constituents’ experience with our office and their government.”
“Open-source software is an important way to increase congressional transparency and accountability while furthering government efficiency, and we applaud the House of Representatives for its efforts to build a 21st century legislature” said Daniel Schuman, co-founder of the Congressional Data Coalition.
“This is an important step that will enable the House to adapt more quickly to changes in technology,” said Sean Vitka, federal policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation. “Allowing Congress to use open source tools will improve transparency and communication between government and the people.”
“Adoption of open-source software by the House of Representatives will be a force multiplier for the taxpayer dollar, allowing information technology systems to be built once and more easily shared between members’ offices,” said Ben Balter, Government Evangelist at Github. “In doing so, the House joins the hundreds of government organizations around the world that participate in the open-source community each day to deliver services more efficiently, more transparently, and in collaboration with the citizens they represent.”
“I’m so pleased the House has taken this critical step forward in allowing Members and staff to take advantage of the rich, productive—and, most of all, transparent—resources of open-source software,” said Mike Godwin, director of innovation policy at the R Street Institute. We’ve known for many years that the open-source approach can be a powerful engine for technological advance, economic growth and the creation of new, powerful initiatives ranging from the Open Knowledge Foundation and Creative Commons to Linux and Wikipedia. I’m excited that the House is now empowered to take greater advantage of the fruits of open-source development.”