On 7 January 2011, the US Government issued a memorandum instructing its information technology (IT) procurers not to discriminate on the basis of whether the software is proprietary, open source or mixed source, but to base their purchasing choices solely on the merits of the products.
The ‘technology neutrality’ memorandum from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urges Government agencies to “analyse alternatives that include proprietary, open source, and mixed source technologies. This allows the Government to pursue the best strategy to meet its particular needs.” The memorandum also emphasises several key open source factors, such as interoperability and re-use in the selection of IT. The economic implications of this might be considerable, given that currently US Government agencies spend almost $80 billion (approximately €59 billion) to buy IT.
At one level, the directive is a reiteration of prior US Government policy, which requires agencies to adopt technology and vendor neutrality in acquisitions for IT, and which emphasises procurement choices based on performance and value, free of preconceived preferences based on how the technology is developed, licensed or distributed. In 2004, for example, the OMB made clear that open source was commercial software, and in October 2009, the Department of Defense published clarifying guidance that sought to dispel much of the prejudicial ‘fear, uncertainty and doubt’ that surrounds open source technology.
However, the ‘technology neutrality’ memorandum also takes the policy an important step further. Because it is signed by three leading Government officials responsible for federal procurement, IT reform and the protection of intellectual property, this memorandum unequivocally places open source solutions in the mainstream of Government procurement options.