Department of the Navy releases Open Source Software User Policy

The U.S. Department of the Navy, Office of the Chief Information Officer (DONCIO) announced today the issuing of the Navy's Open Source Software Guidance memorandum addressing the use of open source software within Navy and Marine Corps information technology (IT) systems. A copy of the DON open source user policy can be downloaded here: DONCIO OSS User Guidance Memo.

"Now Hear This!"

According to the official Navy release, "this memorandum provides guidance for all Navy and Marine Corps commands regarding the use of Open Source Software (OSS). The objective of the Department of Defense (DoD) goal of achieving an interoperable net-centric environment is to improve the warfighter's effectiveness through seamless access to critical information. A key piece in supporting the DoD goal is the ability to utilize OSS as part of the Department of the Navy's (DON) Information Technology (IT) portfolio."

The "User Guidance Memorandum" is the first in a series of guidance documents to be developed by the DON to address issues regarding "Users" of open source software within all Navy IT systems. Future guidance memorandums will address "development" and "distribution" issues regarding open source within Navy IT environments.

A Level Playing Field

For years, commercial open source representatives have said they wanted a level playing field on which to compete with proprietary vendors for Department of Defense business. This Navy policy helps to not only clear many Navy acquisition and adoption roadblocks by defining open source solutions as "the-same-as" COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) and GOTS (government-off-the-shelf) offerings, but also acknowledges the competitive value of open source solutions as a viable technical and economic option for DON consideration.

The policy clearly states: "the misconception that OSS is neither a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) nor government off-the-shelf (GOTS) solution has hindered the DON's ability to leverage the benefits of OSS technology and methodology. Because of this misconception, OSS has not received equal consideration during the software acquisition process."

Therefore, "DON commands will treat OSS as COTS when it meets the definition of a commercial item. This will allow the DON to utilize OSS throughout the enterprise when acquiring capabilities to meet DON business and warfighter requirements."

Long Time Coming

The Navy's new open source user policy was officially signed today by the DONCIO, Robert Carey, who recently took reigns as Navy CIO after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Former DONCIO, David Wennergren, initiated the Navy's efforts to craft an open source policy in 2004 after a briefing on the findings of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (NCRADA-01-008) between the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command's Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) and the Open Source Software Institute (OSSI).

The development and vetting of the OSS User Policy was undertaken by a working group hosted by the DONCIO. The OSS Working Group included many representatives from several sections of the Navy and Marine Corp's technical, policy, legal, and acquisition communities. The Working Group also included representatives from IT industry, vendors and the open source community, including OSSI.

"It is difficult to describe the amount of work and shier determination on the part of the Navy and specific individuals who kept pushing and driving this process to see it through to completion," said John Weathersby, OSSI executive director and member of the DONCIO Open Source Working Group. "It was truly a group effort, but as a representative of the Open Source Community and commercial IT industry, I offer the men and women who worked on this project a sincere and heartfelt thanks and a special recognition for their vision, fortitude, and leadership."