[LINK] Linux in Government: The Government Open Code Collaborative
brd at iimetro.com.au
Mon Dec 6 11:30:15 EST 2004
Linux in Government: The Government Open Code Collaborative
By Tom Adelstein on Fri, 2004-12-03 00:00.
Can a gated Open Source community really work?
As we celebrate the holiday season and prepare for the next round of
legislation, a group of state and local governments has banded together to
collect and distribute freely the costly software that normally runs
taxpayers $100 billion annually. Called the Government Open Code
Collaborative or GOCC.gov, this organization states that its members work
together voluntarily to encourage "the sharing, at no cost, of computer
code developed for and by government entities where the redistribution of
this code is allowed".
In addition to state and local governments, the organization also
encourages collaboration between public sector entities and non-profit
academic institutions. With Web facilities hosted by the University of
Rhode Island, GOCC.gov has a repository dedicated to hosting open-source
software for download by any state or local government.
As so many people have said, "Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time
has come." And GOCC.gov is an idea whose time is long overdue. Open-source
advocates attempting to initiate legislation and fight the battles on the
floors of the various Houses, only to discover the political might and
opposition of Microsoft, now have an alternative. State agencies now can
download software for free and use it to create a cohesive and standard
Instead of every county in the country buying the same Commercial
Off-the-Shelf Software (COTS) 3,750 times, they simply can find what they
need, download it and install it--a design similar to the distribution of
Linux. Think of the cost savings and standardization this offers Homeland
Security, law enforcement, the judicial system, deed databases, eGovernment
applications and financial applications, to mention only a few areas.
Additionally, the concerns of connecting various disparate databases across
the country, a topic we heard about daily during the last campaign season,
can be put to rest.
An example of the kind of software you can find on the GOCC.gov site is
Election Tally, contributed by the city of Newport News, Virginia. Election
Tally is a parameter-driven Web-enabled application written in Python and
utilizing ModPython and MySQL. It generates an election tally report by
extracting files for the state Board of Elections and produces a video
That's pretty heady technology available to everyone in the country. In my
voting precinct, our team had to generate the results and post them on the
door of the polling place. If we could interest the Dallas County Election
Board in adopting Election Tally, it would allow us to interface our
polling machines directly with headquarters. The commission immediately
could begin its audit, save time and eliminate voter fraud.
Of the many types and kinds of participants, eight states now participate
to some extent in GOCC.gov: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania,
Utah, West Virginia, Virginia, Texas and New York. In the majority of
cases, individual agencies have joined. Of course, GOCC.gov hopes to
attract every state in the country. The more governments that participate,
the faster the adoption rate can grow, along with the cost savings.
According to the GOCC.gov site:
The organizing meeting of the GOCC was sponsored in December 2003, by the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in conjunction with Harvard University and
MIT. The morning session at Harvard University's Kennedy School of
Government was conducted by Professor L. Jean Camp, who presented an
excellent tutorial on the various license options available to code
sharers. Sparing every expense, the attendees took advantage of the
Commonwealth's excellent public transportation system and used the MBTA's
Red Line to make the transition to MIT for the afternoon program.
The afternoon session at MIT included an audio bridge for those folks that
could not attend in person. The genesis of the collaborative was vetted and
launched through a discussion facilitated by Dan Greenwood of MIT's
E-Commerce Architecture Program. Dan has been a significant contributor to
this initiative from inception. Through a series of subsequent audio
conferences, the group agreed to the operating rules for the collaborative
and the repository, the governance and officer structure and the actual
announcement process. Highlights include the following:
The GOCC will be entirely independent and not affiliated with any
professional or private sector entity.
The GOCC will accept no financial or in-kind assistance from any private
sector company. All initial members will be either municipalities, legal
entities of state government, or academic non-profit institutions.
Four officer positions were established to serve for one year:
Chairperson: Peter Quinn, CIO, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Municipality Representative: Mike Wells, CIO, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Technical Lead: Jim Willis, CIO, Secretary of State, RI
Policy Lead: Patrick McCormick, Harvard University, Kennedy School of
On June 30, 2004, GOCC.gov made an official announcement that it was in
business. Again, according to the Web site, "The Commonwealth of
Massachusetts Information Technology Division; the Rhode Island Office of
the Secretary of State; the Pennsylvania Office of Information Technology;
the Utah Governor's Office, CIO Section; the Kansas Secretary of State
Office; the Kansas Treasurer's Office; the Missouri Secretary of State
Office; the West Virginia Auditor's Office; the City of Gloucester, MA; the
City of Worcester, MA; and the City of Newport News, VA, [announced] the
formation of the Government Open Code Collaborative (GOCC)."
The GOCC wants to offer only code licensed under an "OSI Approved License"
or any other open-source license deemed acceptable under the GOCC's
operating rules. And according to the GOCC, this code routinely is referred
to as either "Open Source Software", "Free Software" and, less frequently,
by other similar names.
GOCC also states that:
Government entities, defined as a federal, state or local government, an
authority or other sub-national public sector entity of the United States,
can join the GOCC as Members by signing the GOCC Operating Agreement
through an authorized representative. The signatory or their designee can
then appoint additional members within their entities.
Private non-profit U.S. academic institutions can also become members by
signing the GOCC Operating Agreement through an authorized representative.
The signatory or their designee can then appoint additional members within
People belonging to a government entity or private non-profit academic
institution that has not signed the Operating Agreement can participate
with an Observer status. Representatives of non-profit associations of
public entities can also participate as Observers. Observers have to be
sponsored by a Member. Observers are able to join the GOCC list server to
receive announcements and participate in discussions and are encouraged to
participate in the GOCC bi-weekly conference calls.
Do You See Anything Wrong with This Picture?
Have you ever heard the cliche about prisoners running the asylum? Well,
this gated and restrictive organization fits. Get a group of academics
together with management and grow the group in the infertile soil of
bureaucracy, and you will spend almost all of your time waiting. Watching
the group from a distance over the past year reminds one of inexperienced
farmers trying to plant a field of corn by reading books.
GOCC.gov is a Cathedral trying to say it's a Bazaar. You might as well call
the Java programming language open-source software. GOCC.gov goes through
the motion of calling itself an open-source collaboration, yet it excludes
the people that can bring the vision to fruition.
GOCC.gov ignores the existing base of software by excluding vendors from
donating their solutions. It excludes contributors from the Linux and Open
Source community not affiliated with a government or academic entity. So
where will it find the people with the skills to develop the repository?
Within its own infrastructure? Perhaps you now see why I used the cliche
Can anyone see a business model here? Read the GOCC.gov charter and you
discover that it has built one more bureaucracy to oversee its existing
bureaucracy, with oversight over the new bureaucracy. What else would one
In an article titled "IBM: 'Inertia' holding back government desktop Linux
the executives of Big Blue identify inertia as the primary reason
governments haven't adopted open-source solutions in England. IBM's public
sector business development executive Jeremy Wray said, "[the] single
biggest factor holding back government departments from migrating to the
Linux desktop is inertia. At the moment public sector departments lack a
compelling reason to act." Unwittingly, he has described a property of all
bureaucratic organizations, one that IBM itself has helped foster. If
bureaucracies don't have a problem to manage, they have no reason to exist.
The idea of inertia comes from Newton's first law. One definition
identifies inertia as "the property of an object describing its tendency to
stay at the same velocity (or at rest) unless a force acts on it". So
inertia is a property, not a cause. Inertia is a property of bureaucracies,
and it doesn't change unless acted on.
If you want to see how vigorous GOCC.gov has been over the past year, look
at its list of software <http://www.gocc.gov/GOCC/software>. That's right,
you're looking at five pieces of software, one of which is an application.
That's what GOCC.gov has accomplished in one year. If you think that's
strange, consider also that it took this "Collaborative" six months to
announce it existed.
Now, drop down to the membership list and look at the contributions from
Texas <http://www.gocc.gov/GOCC/entities/TX/>. Click on that link, and you
get "There are currently no items in this folder".
The CIO of my great state has taken some pride in letting people know that
the "Texas Open Source Bill" hasn't passed and won't pass. As she has said
in public, "it's dead". Yet, within Texas, the Department of Information
Resources touts its open-source sharing plan, as seen here.
One of the touted programs in Texas is the Governor's Office database of
solutions for free source code. When you visit the Web site
<http://188.8.131.52/governmentdomain/index.htm>, you find the same
have existed for two years. You also can find the same testimonial
<http://184.108.40.206/governmentdomain/Testimonials.asp> that has existed
for the same time period. This is an attempt to say they have all these
pieces together so the legislature won't force the issue as they tried in
2003. Unfortunately, the Senator sponsoring SB 1579 understands the issues
and plans to act in 2005.
Can GOCC.gov Work?
In its present condition, GOCC.gov cannot work. In a closed community, a
member must receive some benefit to join. If I join and contribute
software, what do I receive in return? If the operation is gated and closed
and I must provide software support, I at least need to be able to swap for
something in return. If I can download any software for free without
becoming a member, why would I want to expose my organization to legal
liability? When you look at the GOCC Operating Agreement and at the
organization, someone outside of the Collaborative--"the Member
contributing code"--assumes liability for the code working. Why would I
want to do that?
Read the GOCC Operating Agreement
to get an idea of the restrictions placed on those who can contribute code
and their responsibilities. The restrictions and the lack of incentive
provide no cost-benefit ratio. Governments have accountability to their
constituents, and GOCC.gov needs to ask two simple questions: Why do
constituents have to be the first ones to pay for the application, spend
the money supporting it and risk liability? And what do they get in return?
How Can GOCC.gov Work?
The Collaborative should accept contributions of open-source software from
vendors who have implemented existing solutions. In other words, open up
the repository to people who have products that governments need and cannot
afford. Secondly, let the vendors build a business plan around the GOCC
For example, if I have a project such as the LibraryofTexas.org, let the
vendor who already has open-sourced the project contribute the software. If
a small town in Alabama wants to deploy it and has the manpower, they would
do it themselves.
However, if a city such as Cleveland wants to deploy the software and would
rather hire the originator of the product to install it and train people,
then the originator could charge for their services. The contributor gets
his software exposed on what could become the largest government software
repository in the world. That exposure would provide vendors with an
incentive to contribute, because they have a chance to increase their
The alternative to having vendors contribute and provide services is to
wait. GOCC.gov can wait for everybody in government to learn Linux and then
do everything themselves. By the time that happens, though, we won't need
computers any more. We'll have evolved into cyber-beings and telepaths.
The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse
dies away without the sympathy of the community.
-- William James
brd at iimetro.com.au
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