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Open source 'reduces risk,' federal agency's CIO says

U.S. General Services Administration, which manages a big chunk of the government's procurement dollars, is leaning heavily on open-source software.

Casey Coleman, chief information officer for the U.S. General Services Administration, said in a speech this week that the GSA heavily relies on open source to drive down costs, increase flexibility of IT dollars, and reduce risk.

The GSA, by the way, is no small fry. It manages more than one-fourth of the federal government's total procurement dollars and influences the management of $500 billion in federal assets.

The agency uses a laundry list of great open-source software--initially for its information systems but also increasingly for transactional mission-critical systems--such as JBoss, Linux (Red Hat), Bugzilla (bug tracking), JUnit (testing), JMeter (Apache performance monitoring tool), Eclipse, KnowledgeTree (content management), and others.

Coleman cited some excellent reasons for deploying open-source software:

By using open source, the agency won't be locked in to using a proprietary software program, at least for the duration of the contract.

Not having sunk costs in a commercial software program also means the agency can move to a new program more quickly should its needs change. The general openness also means the agency could become a collaborator in the further development of the software itself.

"You get much more transparency and interoperability, and that reduces your risk," she said.

When the GSA, the organization that influences the purchasing for the rest of the U.S. federal government, buys heavily into open source, you know it's time for the rest of the government to do so, as well. In fact, it already is--at least, 55 percent of it.

Ms. Coleman, I want my tax dollars to stretch a bit further, though. Please instruct the rest of the government to buy into open source much more actively. Thanks!