Open source finds its way into the U.S. stimulus bill

The U.S. stimulus bill includes a provision requiring a report on the benefits of open source for healthcare, which may prod the federal government to consider open source beyond healthcare.

Even as open source thrives in the downturn, with many open-source vendors reporting significantly increased interest in open solutions as budgets get slashed, the U.S. federal government has decided to put U.S. taxpayer dollars into play to fund a study of just how much money can be saved by moving to open source.

Rather than a broad-based study, however, Congress approved a measure that will study the viability and financial effects of open-source health IT providers, as noted in the stimulus bill [PDF - see page 488] and reported on Slashdot:

STUDY AND REPORT ON AVAILABILITY OF OPEN SOURCE HEALTH INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SYSTEMS. --

(A) IN GENERAL.--The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall...conduct a study on--

(i) the current availability of open source health information technology systems to Federal safety net providers (including small, rural providers);

(ii) the total cost of ownership of such systems in comparison to the cost of proprietary commercial products available;

(iii) the ability of such systems to respond to the needs of, and be applied to, various populations (including children and disabled individuals); and

(iv) the capacity of such systems to facilitate interoperability.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services is then to report back by October 1, 2010, with a report detailing its findings and conclusions.

Assuming the report is favorable, I suspect that part of that report will offer a hint as to the role open source could play beyond the healthcare industry. As reported by CNET earlier, President Obama has already asked Sun chairman Scott McNealy to draft a white paper that details the benefits of open source . Between this and the Health and Human Services report, it's very possible that the U.S. federal government will have established IT policies that favor open source.

I've long been a critic of government mandates for open source, in part because open-source adoption within the federal government has been strong in the absence of mandates, but a policy that requires consideration of open source as a way to lower costs and vendor lock-in strikes me as appropriate and a good use of taxpayer funds.


Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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