Open Source for America (OSFA) was announced as a coalition to encourage U.S. federal government support of and participation in open source projects and technologies. If that sounds like a broad-reaching goal, it is. Nearly three months after the group's debut, I was interested to learn what progress OSFA has made toward this goal.
I'd reached out to the OSFA and was directed to Tom Rabon, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Red Hat and a member of the OSFA steering committee. Tom spoke about the early success of OSFA and some upcoming challenges.
OSFA membership has grown from 70 individuals, associations, vendors, non-governmental organizations, and research institutions to more than 1,300 members. This growth has occurred without a coordinated outreach program by OSFA. The OSFA coalition has been contacted by a similar organization in Australia called Open Technology Foundation that wants to learn best practices from OSFA.
On the other hand, since OSFA is a volunteer organization, the progress to date has been limited by the time and effort required to organize the growing membership into projects and actions that can advance OSFA's goal. Additionally, finding common ground across such a diverse group of members, including several competing vendors, is no simple task.
Recent progress has centered on the definition of 11 OSFA working groups in alphabetical order:
Acquisitions and Competition
Elections and Voting Technology
Energy and Transportation
State and LocalTransparency
According to Rabon, the Marketing working group will be instrumental in expanding OSFA's outreach programs in 2009 and early 2010.
Rabon also described the Open Government Report Card Project, which aims to:
"...develop such an evaluation, or report card, with the knowledge of the White House, and based on a list of questions/metrics shared with the White House. The intent would be to reinforce and publicize efforts for open government, to include policies and practices that treat open source software fairly, allowing its advantages to be leveraged. We will start with a list of questions/metrics to form the report card, then gather & evaluate data, and create the report."
Results of the Open Government Report Card Project will be made available for government agencies to compare and contrast their own use of open source software with that of other agencies. However, it isn't entirely clear how this final step will occur. Will OSFA post results on its Web site and expect the federal government and specific agencies to consume the results at their leisure? Will OSFA be invited by the feds to present results to government stakeholders? Will the OSFA hire lobbyists to ensure that these meeting are scheduled? In fact, these questions are equally applicable to outputs from each of the 11 working groups.
I didn't get a clear answer on how OSFA will shift from creating policies and report cards in working groups to getting its work in front of government decision makers and influencers. I'm certain that OSFA is working on such a plan for 2010, since "build it and they'll come" only works for Kevin Costner.
Overall, it seems there is plenty of work ahead for OSFA, especially in the area of getting decision maker buy-in. Lucky for OSFA that its membership, and its members' willingness to help OSFA reach its goal, continue to grow as well.
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