Open Source for America (OSFA) leadership determined that the study would include all fifteen Cabinet-level departments and agencies, and evaluated the following: Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, Department of Education, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of Homeland Security.


OSFA identified agency representatives from among the membership of the Open Government Working Group ( Those representatives or their designees received all communications between OSFA and their agency regarding this study. They were given opportunities to participate and review results on behalf of their agency.


The study criteria were developed in two phases. The OSFA team developed a preliminary set of criteria to measures an environment friendly to open source software and the open source development model. The criteria were then made available for online comment and revision by members of the public on, a site used by numerous federal agencies as part of their Open Government outreach efforts. Criteria were then consolidated and rephrased where appropriate conforming to the need for either affirmative or negative results. In some cases, the criteria measure policies that explicitly encourage open source. In other cases, the criteria measure policies that encourage a broader ecosystem for open source software, especially around in the areas of open access to information and open data. OSFA believes that successful open source adoption requires transparency in the agency’s operations as well as direct policy guidance. The criteria have been weighted accordingly.

This two-phase process yielded a set of statements grouped into seven (7) general categories pertaining to each agency as follows:

1(a) Publishes budget on publicly accessible agency website

1(b) Publishes budget in search-able format

2(a) Publishes visitor/solicitation logs on publicly accessible agency website

2(b) Publishes visitor/solicitation logs in search-able format

2(c) Publishes substance of visitor/solicitation discussion on publicly accessible agency website

2(d) Publishes product samples received from third parties on publicly accessible agency website

2(e) Publishes fact-finding trips (non-classified) on publicly accessible agency website

3(a) Publishes forms in open file format standards

3(b) Published open formatted records include digital certification of authenticity

3(c) Accepts files from the public in multiple formats, including at least one open format

4(a) Agency site uses wikis to solicit public feedback

4(b) Agency site uses online forums to solicit public feedback

4(c) Agency site uses social media to solicit public feedback

4(d) Agency site uses e-mail lists to solicit public feedback

4(e) Agency site uses other online outreach tool(s) to solicit public feedback

5(a) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) information is available via a link from agency homepage

5(b) FOIA requests are considered with a presumption in favor of disclosure

5(c) FOIA requests are assigned a tracking number if they are not answered within ten days

5(d) Agency provides a phone line where individuals can track their FOIA request using the assigned tracking number

5(e) Agency provides website where individuals can track their FOIA request using the assigned tracking number

5(f) Agency has Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer who is an Assistant Secretary or equivalent level

6(a) Procurement policy directs that software purchase consideration includes a total cost of ownership analysis

6(b) Procurement policy cites open technologies as an option

6(c) Policy permits publication of agency-developed source code as open source

7(a) Has published agency-created software code as open source

7(b) Provides policy guidance/explanation identifying open source as a permitted procurement option


OSFA compiled the reasoning behind each question set to allow agencies and the public to understand why particular criteria were considered. The following justifications were included with the criteria in all interactions with agency representatives.

Question Set 1

Published budgets allow the technology community to quantify an agency’s IT software/services cost and find opportunities for an agency to increase its efficiency with open source software.

Question Set 2

Solicitation logs and discussion records increase the transparency of procurement decisions and underscore the importance of accountability in government. In many cases, open source software is insufficiently represented in agency discussions, and having this data available provides valuable insight into the process.

Question Set 3

Disclosure is not truly public if citizens must use a particular software package to view government documents. Worse, documents published in proprietary formats could force citizens to purchase software from a single vendor to work with the data. This has the effect of limiting the distribution of ostensibly public data, and unfairly favors one vendor’s software over another.

Question Set 4

Meaningful collaboration between citizens and their government is increasingly facilitated by online technologies. Not coincidentally, the use of collaborative tools and social media ensure the transparent and free flow of information and ideas between citizen developers, and their government counterparts. The collaborative technologies are the foundation for an effective open source community that includes both citizens and government.

Question Set 5

Consistent with existing privacy laws and agency guidance, data collected at the taxpayers’ expense should be publicly accessible, and FOIA is a crucial tool to ensure that such data is available. Once available, it forms the basis for valuable analysis, discussion, and collaboration. Public data is the raw material for open source projects.

Question Set 6

The government is rife with misunderstanding and misinformation about open source software licenses, and where and how open source software may be used by agencies. This necessitates explicit guidance on open source procurement policy.

Question Set 7

Government work is paid for by the public, and code produced should be given back to the public whenever possible. The open source process is an excellent vehicle for this. Open source has the effect of increasing competition, thus lowering costs and increasing procurement efficacy.


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