September 25, 2021

Online Collaboration: U.S. Dept of Defense Launches “Code.mil,” an Experiment in Open Source

From the U.S. Dept. of Defense:

The Department of Defense (DoD) announced the launch of Code.mil, an open source initiative that allows software developers around the world to collaborate on unclassified code written by federal employees in support of DoD projects.

DoD is working with GitHub, an open source platform, to experiment with fostering more collaboration between private sector software developers and federal employees on software projects built within the DoD. The Code.mil URL redirects users to an online repository that will house code written for a range of projects across DoD for individuals to review and make suggested changes.

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Creating new communities in open source

Open source and free software (which refers to software freedom, not free of cost) are industry best practices and integral parts of modern software development. They, however, are concepts yet to be widely adopted within the department. With Code.mil, DoD can access a depth and breadth of technical skill previously underutilized while offering software tools created by the government for free public use.

Another objective for Code.mil is to create a network of peers between the federal government and the developer community to encourage participation, share knowledge, and make connections in support of DoD programs that ultimately service our national security.

The Defense Digital Service (DDS) spearheads the Code.mil initiative. DDS was established in 2015 to bring private sector best practices, talent, and technology into the department. DDS is a team of self-described nerds who come in on short stints from companies such as Google, Amazon, and Netflix to work on problems impacting DoD. Current projects include “Hack the Pentagon,” Next Generation GPS (OCX) and Defense Travel System modernization.

Open source challenges in government

DoD faces unique challenges in open sourcing its code. Code written by federal government employees typically does not have copyright protections under U.S. and some international laws, which creates difficulties in attaching open source licenses.

Code.mil is experimenting with a legal pathway of using contract law in the Defense Open Source Agreement to add commonly used licenses to DoD software projects. DDS consulted with the Open Source Initiative and Free Software Foundation on devising a comprehensive approach to both open and free software.

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Call to action

In true open source fashion, DDS is hosting an open call to developers, lawyers, and other members of the open source and free software communities across the government and private industry to comment and review a draft open source agreement that is currently available on Code.mil. The agreement will outline the terms of use and participation, and will be finalized by the end of March.

The draft can be found at https://github.com/deptofdefense/code.mil/blob/master/LICENSE-agreement.md.

The DDS will be the first to host project code written by their team of developers on Code.mil upon finalization of the open source agreement.

See Also: Army Secretary issues challenge with ‘Hack the Army’ program (November 21, 2016)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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