Defense Department (Re)Launches Open Source Software Portal

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The open source initiative got a makeover and a new website:

The Defense Department launched the website on Tuesday, a new, streamlined portal for its similarly named initiative, a collaborative approach to meeting the government’s open source policy.

The new website was designed to give a more straightforward user experience. The site features a suite of new tools, including checklists that links to offer guidance, and represents “an evolution of the project,” according to Ari Chivukula, policy wrangler for the Defense Digital Service.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama’s Federal Source Code Policy pushed agencies to use open source software. Among other things, the policy included a pilot program requiring agencies to publish 20 percent of code written by the government.

The Defense Department was ready to get in on the game but ran into challenges. A Feb. 13, 2018, Defense Digital Service post on Medium explains:

The DOD faces many challenges in open sourcing code. Unlike most software projects, code written by U.S. federal government employees typically does not have copyright protections under U.S. and some international laws. Often times this makes people think that our code can’t use an [open source software] license, but this is far from true! It does, however, require a little more effort to define our intent. The complexity of national security policy adds another point of difficulty when individual program offices look to open source their work. Even with approval to release code publicly, government employees can be hindered by lack of access to modern source control and developer operations processes.

“We’ve learned a lot by talking to service members, program offices, and contractors across the DOD excited about participating in the [free and open source software] community,” Chivukula, DDS Engineer Jordan Kasper, General Counsel Sharon Woods and Chief of Staff Reina Staley told Nextgov in an email. “The primary problems they encountered were the shortage of practical guidance on how to open source code and the lack of visibility around existing open source projects.”

So, the service began, the Defense Department’s answer to, the civilian agency website created to serve the same purpose.

The military’s open source initiative began last year on GitHub—an open source repository where programmers trade and work on each other’s code—but the project soon outgrew that venue.

In February 2017 the Defense Digital Service started a conversation with the free and open source software community on how the DOD could better open source code,” the officials said. “That dialogue produced a lot of guidance on how the DOD can open source projects, but the information was all on GitHub and not very accessible.”

The GitHub site hasn’t gone away, and Digital Service officials are encouraging people to continue the conversation there.