Government Transparency and Open Source Software

How it seems the most unlikely of events to see two worlds collide. Government and Open source software. Government has always been considered closed and mysterious collecting all sorts of information on its citizens. Open source software, on the other hand, with its progressive mantra of software should be free including the source code.

In the 1990’s, open source software was bad and horrible business idea. Microsoft executives in 2002, said of open source software that “is an intellectual property destroyer.” Here we are more than a decade later and Microsoft is still flourishing. They even open sourced many solutions and tools. There are many big companies that are more competitive because of this change in business philosophy. Some of these companies are thriving because developers are adopting their technology and eco systems.

Tin hat theorists, I’m not going to head down into a discussion on transparency of the US National Security Agency, FBI or CIA, because it won’t happen. What I am going to focus on how various agencies in the government are making some pretty cool open source projects, based on government transparency.

Various government agencies have been forced to create leaner, faster solutions for citizens. This is happening more and more as citizens demand more transparency on data being collected. Government information technology departments are being required to innovate. Hmm, government and innovation is some sort of an oxymoron.

The US government has created some pretty innovative projects in recent years. One group is a consulting group in the US government, called 18F. This group does project consultancy work for various government agencies, and then open sources the software. Yes that means you and me as tax payers paid for that code, but we have access to use it as we want for our own business applications. There are a number of other projects that this group and other sister groups within the US government have created.

Here are some of my favorites. Bear with some of the names, they are not acronyms of the old government think tanks. They are inspirational project names open source developers come up with in your 20-30 something age range.

Raktabija, is a bootstrap framework for a new Amazon Web Service account with vpc and auto scaling groups. A nice solution for managing multi-tenant cloud environment and data centers. It can tear down the cloud. This is great for developers that like to stand up lots of EC2 instances and forget to take them down after they are done testing or developing.

Qu . This pretty cool it’s a data platform to publish public data sets. Yes I know you could host on socrata, but if you want to host in your own cloud and be able to serve out a data set which allows an api developer access to your dataset this might be it. This is intended for more open data so if you don’t want to give people access to public data sets this isn’t for you. . Oh, how government has loved to make the most un-user friendly websites. Ever try to find anything on a USDA or IRS website? They are literally tab and many menu levels deep designed sites. Oh, responsive design for mobile devices? Yeah not all of them support that. Government is big so they had different UX designers from different era’s designing these websites. Looks like there is a draft standard for US government web designs. It is almost patriotic in color scheme with the red white and blue. It’s not Bootstrap but it is a lot better than the current government UX landscape.

eRegulations. Oh the joy of reading regulations probably didn’t get better, but it is so much nicer to read. I like to think of it as Javadoc for regulations. Simply run your tomb of regulations into the parser and out pops a nice UX looking searchable site see (

Federal Icons . You can never have enough icons for your mobile apps or websites. Right? Oh yes, Fontawesome is awesome, but here is some icons created by the Consumer Financial protection Bureau that are open sourced.

This is just a few of the many projects that have come out of the US government recently. It will be interesting to see how open source evolves government like it has done for technology companies over the years. In some ways, Pandora’s box has been opened and citizens are demanding transparency and accountability, and these projects look like a great start.


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