Congress leans toward open source-software

The House's proposed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, H.R. 5658, includes language that calls for the services to consider open-source software when procuring aerial vehicles, which could have broader implications for the military.

IT’S RARE TO see a concept as technical as open-source software in a federal funding bill. But the House’s proposed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (H.R. 5658) (, Quickfind 1209) includes language that calls for military services to consider open-source software when procuring manned or unmanned aerial vehicles.

The bill doesn’t elaborate on the use of open source, but the House Armed Services Committee report accompanying the measure (, Quickfind 1208) clarifies lawmakers’ intentions. And although the language is confined to aerial vehicles, its implications are broader.

“The committee is concerned by the rising costs and decreasing security associated with software development for information technology systems. These rising costs are linked to the increasing complexity of software, which has also resulted in increasing numbers of system vulnerabilities that might be exploited by malicious hackers and potential adversaries,” the report states, “The committee encourages the department to rely more broadly on [open-source software] and establish it as a standard for intra-department software development.”

Whether the bill’s reference to open source will remain in the final measure is another question. The House’s version of the bill was passed in May; the Senate debated its own version of the bill, S. 3001, last week.

If the provision does survive, it could pave the way for greater acceptance in the defense community, which traditionally has been wary of open source, at least for official duties.

To find the reference, read Section 143 of the House bill, which calls for the Defense secretary to set a strategy for procuring manned and unmanned vehicle systems.

The objectives listed include “open source software code.”

Federal Computer Week Procurement Editor Matthew Weigelt contributed to this story.

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