Federal News Network: When it comes to open source, culture continues to eat strategy, policy for lunch

“Joe Castle, a recent PhD graduate from Virginia Tech, who studied federal technology policy and open source software, and is a federal employee, said the current state of the culture about open source in government is driven by the people, not the agency or memos or any other reason.

’The organizational factors that I looked at was culture, public engagement, structural factors and organizational location, which speaks more to hierarchy in the organization. I went by 24 CFO Act agencies and you see who’s publishing, or how much they’re publishing by volume,’ Castle said on Ask the CIO. ‘Then you go back and say, “Well, okay, so if everyone has a CIO shop, conceivably everyone has a budget relative to size, and everyone has skill, then how come this one agency publishes more frequently than this other?” That’s really where it’s like, there’s got to be something else going on here. If one agency wants to publish, they can publish and the other one just can’t because of some weird reason. So I said let’s apply some logic to this and look at these organizational factors to see what’s really happening here?’…”

“‘Culture kind of split itself between what I called “advantageous” and “cautionary” beliefs. Advantageous tended to be that organizations or units that had sort of this positive notion of open sources is good, and they should publish for multiple reasons. One of them was demonstration of competency, which I thought was interesting. There’s federal employees out there that develop software they want to publish because they want to be able to show others that they’re actually competent in some sense,’ he said. ‘Cautionary was like, it doesn’t align to the scope of work that we do and my focus is on, say the IRS and tax returns and tax automation or something else. But it’s not really just to develop software to publish it. That is like a side effect, and we’ll do it if it makes sense for us as a unit, but we’re not getting paid to publish software necessarily.’…”

“’I would say that there is a history of policy development and one builds on the next so it’s an incremental change over time,’ Castle said. ‘There’s actually multiple factors that that come into play. In some cases, for cautionary, it’s like, advantageous wasn’t enough. You also needed participatory decision making. You needed some sort of, I won’t call it autonomy, but you needed some sort of hands off nature or some way that individuals say “we should do this, we should help each other’s community,” which kind of leads back to what open source is. You need individuals who understand what code is and how to publish it properly, and then you also need a lot of varied and more often public engagement.’

Castle said the policies are important to act as that permission slip. He said he heard from other groups that weren’t publishing as much that they couldn’t publish because their CIO or director or whoever makes the decision has not given them permission…”

“Castle said his research showed there is more awareness and understanding of open source and the benefits it brings. He said the requirement in the 2016 memo for agencies to publish at least 20% of their code expired in 2020, so he would like to see OMB update the policy and reinstate the requirement…” Read the full article here.

Source: When it comes to open source, culture continues to eat strategy, policy for lunch – By Jason Miller, April 15, 2021. Federal News Network.

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