Defense Department Releases Open Source Memo

I’ve been holding my breath for so long waiting for this memo that I may not remember how to start breathing again, but here it is. The Department of Defense Deputy CIO Dave Wennergren has signed and released “Clarifying Guidance on Open Source Software.”


Written primarily by my friend Dan Risacher at the Office of Secretary of Defense the memo is intended to clear up common misconceptions and make it easier for DoD program managers to include OSS in their programs. Its goals are to improve agility, eliminate lock in, and reduce cost.

One of the memo’s key points comes from Dave Wheeler at IDA – OSS is considered “Commercial Off the Shelf” software as far as DoD acquisition rules are concerned and therefore OSS must be considered on an equal footing by law whenever a program is doing market research prior to technology selection.

Some will argue that it doesn’t go far enough by only encouraging and not demanding the use of OSS on government programs (I certainly have some sympathy for that point of view) but my hope is that this will at least provide some counter to the FUD machine – you know who you are – and keep moving OSS in defense toward a tipping point of acceptance.

By the way, if you are interested in open source in government and are in or near DC, make sure you check out GOSCON next Thursday, Nov 5. Dave Wennergren will be giving the breakfast keynote and you can ask him all about this memo.

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  • about time!!!!

  • Nathan Myers

    The link in the memo 404s, and the memo itself doesn’t show up in the list of department memoranda. Is the memo itself available under a .mil domain?

  • Jim Stogdill

    @ Nathan I’m told that it will appear here soon:

    I believe an FAQ and some other materials will be posted at the link in the memo at the same time.

  • If you are interested in open source use in government, you might want to check out the openPDC:

    (disclaimer: I’m a developer on this project)

    The openPDC is essentially the data router of the smartgrid (transmission / generation side, PMU Data). The openPDC also includes the necessary classes to process the openPDC archival format in Hadoop.

    So, this is an example of your tax dollars not only at work in open sourcing key smartgrid technology, its also an instance of the federal gov’s smart use of open source technology to serve a key need in Hadoop.

  • Jim Stogdill

    @ Josh, Thanks for sharing that link. Looks like a really interesting project. Seems like there must be all kinds of interesting stories behind dealing with that fire hose of event data (from an infrastructure point of view).

  • (disclaimer: these are my personal views and they don’t reflect the views of my employer)


    Purely from an infrastructure standpoint, I can’t give out detailed layouts and specs. But from the openPDC site, its plainly obvious that there is a strong focus on open source infrastructure. The site also explains that the openPDC runs on basic commodity boxes, just like Hadoop is built to run on basic commodity nodes. In terms of infrastructure, I’ll leave it to the reader to search for NASPI, NERC, and openPDC in order to get a better view of that as I will surely be in trouble touching on that subject.

    Researchers and vendors alike are encourage to download, use, and contribute to the openPDC. The license for the openPDC is also very liberal and could be used in multiple commercial scenarios.

    I think this project is a very good example of how the smartgrid is more than just vendors making cute commercials with lots of buzzwords. In a world full of hype, I believe the openPDC is exceptional effective use of federal tax dollars to not only use open source, but to provide it as well.

  • JV

    Open source is not the issue. In many way it is irrelevant. In a mil system the backhaul part to the network spacecraft or ground link side will always be closed and controlled. From the radio out to the soldier or user the problem is that it takes about 2 years to approve a piece of SW or HW to be allowed to operate on a mil network.

    Creating a cool piece of Google earth mapping SW for an iPhone is something everybody wants, believe me. Any number of contractors have no problem writing the app or porting it to a handheld device. Then the government spends a year or two testing and approving it to use. This memo does nothing to change that, unfortunately. It is a PR memo.

    Things like open source SW development and open source Telecom/BTS would be great and many new ideas and uses of information would come from that. Getting each part and bit of code approved and made secure so that somebody does not get killed using it or it gets hacked by the bad guys still takes years to do. When somebody is trying to kill you it is very different than an app where you need a gas station location on your Blackberry.

  • JOSH VERY COOL project

  • new OSS memo up on DoD CIO website:

  • Note that David Wheeler is an active community member himself. He is an enthusiastic contributor (packager) for the Fedora Project.

  • This is the longest-standing-much-awaited-greatly-anticipated memo I have ever met; congratulations to all involved. I’m hopeful this will become a reference model for civilian agencies too with small budgets and less resource to create any kind of a road map for OSS adoption – including state and local gov.

    BTW David Wheeler is also on the program next week, presenting “open source 101 for managers” (lucky audience).