The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had the distinct advantage of being able to build its systems from scratch, having been established by a 2010 law.
One of the advantages it has had over other government agencies making the transition to more modern systems was the fact it was entirely unencumbered by legacy systems. As such, it took advantage of that flexibility to build open systems built on open source software that could grow with the agency over time.
So writes, agency acting deputy chief information officer, Matthew Burton, in a recent O’Reilly Radar guest post. In fact, Burton said the goal of establishing the agency IT infrastructure was not only to use open source, but to share code with the public (whenever it didn’t compromise system security).
There is always that danger with a government site that if you put the source code out there, you could be giving the bad guys the ammunition they need to attack the site. Given the number of attacks in general, and on government sites in particular, that’s obviously something Burton is aware of.
But he says his department is sharing code for a number of reasons including the fact it’s the right thing to do. As Burton, points out public money was used to create the code, so why not make it public whenever it’s possible to do so.
Further, he says it’s putting his agencies money where its mouth is. The mission of this agency, as he points out is to protect consumers. Its only right for his agency to be as transparent as possible about how it goes about doing its business — and providing source code is one good way to do that.
There is also an infinitely practical reason for sharing the code — for all the reasons that organizations enjoy open source — because by putting the code out in the open, others can use it, fix it and enhance it ways that agency developers might not have considered.
In the post, he also outlines the reasons for using open source code from other projects in government initiatives as well, and it’s for all the reasons that you’ve probably been using open source. It easy to acquire with no 0n-going license fees. It enables them remain flexible in terms of platforms because they aren’t tied to a proprietary code base and it allows them to creative with tools they build themselves, something that’s much more difficult in a proprietary stack.
For some time, IT pros in the private sector have recognized the value of using open source software. For the government, it’s been a slower track, but since President Obama was elected, the government has embraced open source as a more cost-effective alternative to proprietary software. The US government has also embraced cloud computing under Obama as a way to save money.
It’s not often an IT pro has the freedom to choose whatever systems he or she wants and this is an interesting case study in what can happen when you have a blank slate and you can create your IT department from scratch.
Most of you won’t ever have that luxury — but an IT pro can dream, right?