GSA CIO calls for open source to be considered first

Thursday - 7/31/2014, 4:35pm EDT

Open source and open data solutions now should receive top consideration at the General Services Administration.

Sonny Hashmi, the GSA chief information officer, said Thursday during an online chat with Federal News Radio that he recently signed out a memo requiring agency software developers to look at open source before they consider traditional commercial solutions.

"The policy outlines key 'IT principles' including open source first approach, but also includes things like adaptive design, mobile first, cloud first, Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12, Section 508 compliance, etc.," Hashmi wrote during the chat. "GSA is already using Github as an open source community. My intention is that all code developed using taxpayer dollars within GSA should be in the taxpayer's domain [Open Source] and Github is a great way to make that code [and context, docs, collaboration] available to all."

Hashmi said GSA will release more details about the policy in the coming days.

"Related to innovation through open standards, I am a big believer in using open, flexible standards to modernize federal IT," he said.

GSA joins a growing list of agencies moving toward open source. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency began using Githuba few months ago to get more input on specific public apps. The U.S. Geological Service also is considering using Github to crowdsource some of its software development.

The Defense Department issued an updated open source policy in in 2009 and launched a platform called forge.mil to promote software development.

Along with open source, Hashmi said GSA also is developing a concept called "GSA Labs" that will give employees a safe environment to experiment with technology, to build code and do other innovative things.

"CIOs must learn to embrace Shadow IT to a certain extent, and allow for organic innovation," he said. "We [will] introduce [a] process, standards and assurance, when it's time to move a tech from 'GSA Labs' to our standard portfolio."

Hashmi is doing all of this with a 20 percent smaller IT budget. He said sequestration and other budget reductions has meant GSA's IT budget dropped by more than $100 million over the last few years.

In response to the budget challenges, GSA instituted zero based budgeting.

Hashmi said GSA tied IT investments to project and mission outcomes by constantly questioning the need for investing its funding.

"GSA has reduced its IT budget by over $100 million since fiscal 2013, and plans to reduce it by another 5-to-10 percent over the next 2-to-3 years," he said. "It has also provided necessary transparency and accountability and allowed us to make data driven decisions regarding trade-offs between investments and cost reduction scenarios that otherwise would not have been possible."

The GSA Labs and use of open source are part of how the agency is making smarter investments through reusable platforms and technologies, and overlaying smart governance. He said budget constraints have served as a motivator to look for innovative solutions.

Hashmi said GSA implemented a process whereby any IT purchase is reviewed by the Enterprise Architecture team, and anything over $150,000 requires his approval.

"We have tried to strike a balance between oversight and innovation and continue to refine this process," he said. "This process has yielded many benefits, including millions of dollars in savings and cost avoidance through aggregating needs, reusing tools and technologies, and asking tough questions that we, as public servants, should always be asking to provide the best value to the American people."

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