The recent guidance from the Department of Defense (DoD) issued by Deputy CIO David Wennergren (Oct. 29th) is certainly a milestone for open source software. It states that the DoD should consider open source software on equal footing with commercial software offerings. While this in itself is an important achievement, the guidance goes further to reference that software source code and associated design documents are “data”, as defined by DoD Directive 8320.02. The inclusion of this reference could be seen as a subtle point, but one possible implication is that software source code should be considered a contractual deliverable.
The lack of access to source code and clear government usage rights have been major impediments undermining DoD wide software reuse initiatives. Simply stated, no source code, no reuse. In my view, the new guidance can be seen as an initial step in DoD acquisition reform that could enable large amounts of software to be shared and reused across the DoD. The reuse and sharing of software is already enabled by the collaborative software development environment at Forge.mil, as operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). Policies that increase the government's access to source code can only help to foster the success of such initiatives.
As tax payers, any policy that effectively enables software reuse, regardless of whether it is developed under open source license or not, should be received as a positive step. The net result might be that the DoD actually stops paying and repaying for the same software to be developed over again.