If you have not yet looked into Open Source for America (OSA), the advocacy organization recently announced at OSCON, I recommend checking it out.
The recent increased focus on governmental transparency is long overdue. In the 1990’s, we saw a trend in the US toward putting public records online. The trend reversed drastically over the last decade, as new justifications for government secrecy arose. Coinciding with the new US administration, the public is expressing a renewed interest in transparency, with increased attention to Lobby Reform. (In a representative democracy, should it be permissible that elected officials should be able to make secretive backroom policy deals with lobbyists from the tobacco, health insurance or energy industries?)
In the context of open government, the transparency of government technology must also be considered. Free and Open Source Software gets used by government. But when software can be acquired and deployed at no charge, is it going through the same security and other reviews as proprietary software? Conversely, are there times when proprietary software is unacceptable? Consider electronic voting machines. If “We The People” fund the creation of the software ran on these machines, is there any way a vendor can justify not disclosing the source code? I state these observations as questions not to open a discourse about them, but to point out that there are many issues to consider about the role of Free and Open Source Software in government. The establishment of OSA may help shine light on such issues and provide help and guidance to Federal, state and local governments.
To find out what the organization plans to do, I recommend listening to the series of interviews with various OSA board members recently hosted by my good friend Erin Quill (also my former co-presenter on–and now host of–Novell Open Audio).