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Open Source Government Software The Almighty Buck United States

Government Team Experiments With Paying For Small Open Source Tasks (gsa.gov) 90

An anonymous reader writes: The U.S. General Services Administration has a team within it called 18F. They describe themselves as an open source, digital services delivery team. In other words, they create software for use by citizens and other government agencies, and the software they produce is open source. Starting next Monday, October 26, they're trying out an interesting new experiment for procuring open source code. Like any other agency, they have a budget, and they're allowed to contract out work when it makes sense to do so. But there's a difference between big projects and small ones.

If their purchase doesn't exceed $3,500, they have the authority to just do it. Higher than $3,500, and they (not to mention the contractors) have to deal with a bunch of extra red tape. This brings us to their experiment. They're developing a system that will let developers bid on small software projects the GSA needs. It starts at the cap for "micro-purchases," $3,499, and developers can bid it down if they feel it's easier. Once a bid is selected, the developer(s) have 10 working days to send back functioning code with a specific set of acceptance criteria. 18F isn't sure how well it'll work, but it's a cool way to try and make it easier for the open source community to build things for the government.

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Government Team Experiments With Paying For Small Open Source Tasks

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  • Software is one area where communism actually works.
    From each according to his (or her) ability, to each according to his (or her) needs.
    It is ironic that it is a capitalist country that is making it happen.

  • You'd think this'll all go to the lowest bidder (read: "India"), but they do limit this to vendors registered with SAM.gov. Has anyone heard of it? Do you have to be officially incorporated to participate, or does sole proprietorship works, too? What's the criteria? Would it be worth it?

  • by qubezz ( 520511 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @12:54AM (#50785647)

    A basic tenant of US government-created IP, that you can see throughout Wikipedia for example, is that any work created by the government is free of copyright. All that is really missing is the packaged dissemination of the work clear of any other required IP like licensed or proprietary libraries. It shouldn't take a freedom of information act request.

    A United States government work is prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person's official duties. It is not subject to copyright in the United States and there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance, or display of the work.

    This is a good reason to have federal government software developed in-house instead of outsourced to the likes of Oracle, so that it can continue to benefit American people and other branches of governments instead of it being a recurring tax by corporations on the public sector.

    • Not quite : public domain is not entirely open source and doesn't have quite the same list of positive points.

      Not least, public domain works can be taken and used without attribution. If you're a software developer in a gig economy, your reputation matters.

      And as you qualify : public domain in the USA.

      And while the "PERMISSIVE LICENSING!!!" crowd will jump on me for this, there are advantages to copyleft licensing that you can't have if the work is in public domain, because these licenses require copyright

    • >> federal government software developed in-house...so that it can continue to benefit American people and other branches of governments

      Funniest thing I read all day. When's the last time a branch of government said "we want to adapt that other branch's software"? What we get instead is "we need a $2.5B XXX system, and it all has to be custom built because we're unique and awesome."

  • I suppose it matters less for the amount of code you'll get for $4000 with government standards, but having a contract with the developers for bug fixes, improvements, etc is useful if you don't have your own team. A $4000 application with no updates is, well, not worth the money.

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      You can pay $ for somebody to fix those bug and make improvements. Or do you think such work should be free?
      The difference is that now you can pay whoever you like to change that code, instead of being locked in to one specific developer.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      The first thing I thought of, when I read the summary, was that they'd never seen my code. Oh, it'll work. I don't think I've any reason to claim it will be maintainable. It probably won't be readable by anyone but me. That won't be intentional, I just suck. What do they expect for $3500 and ten days?

  • by NaCh0 ( 6124 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @01:42AM (#50785709)

    With a few exceptions, their stuff is primarily Javascript, Ruby, and Python. If those aren't your languages, I don't think you'll have much luck finding tags to bid on.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Java is reserved for the projects that take ten years and go $1B over budget.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    With a ten day delivery, the "preferred vendors" who get the info well ahead of the actual bid will know the larger project requirements and wind up delivering a big-bucks project in $3500 increments, each too small to sue over when they don't quite do the job and leaving any tough stuff to somebody else. No big change in the end-product, but a diffusion of the liability away from a prime vendor contract. Taxpayers will get to pay more.

  • of having to bend over backwards around regs that were written with the best of intentions and end up doing at least as much harm as good. In this case, the good is making it trickier to piss away money on bad software; the bad is disincentivizing looking for a good $10k solution in favor of piecing together three or so half-assed $3499.99 solutions.

    I don't have the magic answer for how to prevent government waste, but having fixed caps like that across the board doesn't seem to be doing much good, becaus
    • I think you are a Pessimist. The sky has dark clouds, and the weather is mostly wet, cold, damp and chilly around your house.
      I am an optimist. The sky is mostly blue, the plants are getting the rain they need, the fireplace is warm, the book is nice to
      read, and the forecast for the weekend is sunny and pleasant.
      I think this software experiment is a good thing.

  • by jmd ( 14060 ) on Friday October 23, 2015 @02:18AM (#50785761)

    Do one thing and do it well, a basic tenant of Unix design. Maybe the government is following Unix philosophy.


    This could be a good thing.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Do one thing and do it well, a basic tenant of Unix design.

      Like using words properly, you mean?

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      Ah, have you forgotten your teachings? There are exceptions... Indeed.

      Master Foo instructed his students:

      “There is a line of dharma teaching, exemplified by the Patriarch McIlroy's mantra ‘Do one thing well’, which emphasizes that software partakes of the Unix way when it has simple and consistent behavior, with properties that can be readily modeled by the mind of the user and used by other programs.”

      “But there is another line of dharma teaching, exemplified by the Patriarch Thompson's great mantra ‘When in doubt, use brute force’, and various sutras on the value of getting 90% of cases right now, rather than 100% later, which emphasizes robustness and simplicity of implementation.”

      “Now tell me: which programs have the Unix nature?”

      After a silence, Nubi observed:

      “Master, these teachings may conflict.”

      “A simple implementation is likely to lack logic for edge cases, such as resource exhaustion, or failure to close a race window, or a timeout during an uncompleted transaction.”

      “When such edge cases occur, the behavior of the software will become irregular and difficult. Surely this is not the Way of Unix?”

      Master Foo nodded in agreement.

      “On the other hand, it is well known that fancy algorithms are brittle. Further, each attempt to cover an edge case tends to interact with both the program's central algorithms and the code covering other edge cases.”

      “Thus, attempts to cover all edge cases in advance, guaranteeing ‘simplicity of description’, may in fact produce code that is overcomplicated and brittle or which, plagued by bugs, never ships at all. Surely this is not the Way of Unix?”

      Master Foo nodded in agreement.

      “What, then, is the proper dharma path?” asked Nubi.

      The master spoke:

      “When the eagle flies, does it forget that its feet have touched the ground? When the tiger lands upon its prey, does it forget its moment in the air? Three pounds of VAX!”

      On hearing this, Nubi was enlightened.

      Not mine, obviously, but it and others are here [catb.org].

  • I hope there are plans to include a statistically representative number (no, that's not a quota at all) of non-white, non-male, non-middle-class, non-hetero, non-cis, non-male bidders.

    There you go, AniMoJo. I saved you the trouble.

  • To fix it I will only charge another $3499. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  • How about integrity? How about sanctity? How about treason the law? How about the fourth amendment?.

    Hey asshole lawyers here, they give a shit about the bottom line looks like you just lost...

    As for me, military style.

    Obamas' cotton candy basically romulan that

    And what about this weed I gotta smoke until I die?

    How about wanting to to the right thing? How about facing the fear of execution for life because you fucked up once? How about that cabbie?

    What do they want? That's over their head. What do I want?

  • Contractors used to get prosecuted for intentionally subverting regulations to avoid oversight.

    Times certainly have changed.

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. -- John Keats