US federal government wasting billions on buggy, risky software

Is your government as bad as mine is?

Devis just lost its bid on a big US government software contract through the GSA (General Services Administration). That's just competition. But how it lost that contract is exceptionally frustrating if you're a US taxpayer:

GSA told Devis at its debriefing that contractor risk was not a determining factor in the award decision, despite the fact that a majority of the evaluation panel found the [winning] Symplicity proposal to be "unacceptable" and offering "little confidence" of successful performance.

I'm all for a software proposal that stinks at the outset. How about you? :-)

Taking this one step further, I'm positive that the US federal government is also not taking into account just how risky every purchase of proprietary software is. Every dime of my tax dollars that is spent locking up government files (Microsoft Office) and/or content (Microsoft Sharepoint), email (Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus/Domino), database records (Oracle, IBM DB2), etc. is money thrown down the overpriced toilet. The US military alone, as the Government Accountability Office notes, is wasting billions and billions of dollars on shoddy software that is only promised to work.

Governments should not lock themselves into proprietary software straitjackets unless there is no viable open-source option. Period. Democratic governments have a duty to their citizens to own their IT, and not have private-sector vendors effectively owning mass quantities of citizens' data. Several years ago there was not enough open-source software to be able to make this sort of demand, but today there is.

Alfresco competes in the US federal market and has a range of great customers there. It is shocking and a little sad to see how proprietary vendors compete for tax dollars. It's a bit shameful. There seems to be no recollection as to whose money the government is spending, on either the part of the government purchasing officers or the vendors selling to them.

It's my money and, possibly, it's yours, too. I routinely see $4 million (and up) prices put on $100,000 problems. Why? Because they can. Because the vendor is on the GSA schedule and so it's easy to buy their slop, even if no one in the purchasing entity has ever actually been able to use the code to ensure it will work.

This truly is shameful. Open source offers a better way. I'm glad to see the government buying more of it, but I'd like to see all code purchased by the US federal government licensed as open source (even if from Microsoft et al.), as then it would still be under the government's control.


Via John Scott @ Powdermonkey.

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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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