Alex Howard

Parsing open source at the State Department

The fifth Tech@State Conference focuses on the role of open source in government, industry and society.

by @digiphile  | +Alex Howard  | Comments: 111 February 2011

techAtState logo In 2011, open source software is used in everything from immense data centers to tiny mobile phones. Today marks a notable milestone with the 5th Tech@State conference at the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C., where public officials, technologists and citizens gather to consider the role that open source will play in the future of government, both at home and abroad.

"We recognize that the world's information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in her remarks on Internet freedom in 2010. The questions that the conference will consider is how that architecture is currently constituted, and with what tools it can be developed. Issues that range from accessibility to security to procurement to standards are not negligible in government and must be addressed for both large agencies and small towns alike.

Open source is playing an important role in open government, although it's hardly a precondition for it. Whether it's or moving to Drupal, middleware for open government data or codesharing with CivicCommons, open source matters more than ever.

What's particularly interesting in this intersection of technology, citizens and government is the open source model itself, in terms of collaborative development, documentation and co-creation of applications or complex systems. This month, the U.S. moved forward into the pilot phase of an open source model for health data systems as the fruits of the Direct Project came to Minnesota and Rhode Island. The Direct Project allows for the secure transmission of health care data over a network. Some observers have dubbed it the Health Internet, and the technology has the potential to save government hundreds of millions of dollars, along with supporting the growth of new electronic health records systems.

Open source and open government have also come together to create OpenStack, an open cloud computing platform that's a collaboration between NASA, Rackspace, Cisco and a growing group of partners.

The Tech@State conference will feature discussion of more than these examples, although it's likely that Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the United States, will address how open source relates to sending health data securely over the Internet and Macon Phillips, White House New Media Director, will discuss Drupal at

Open source technology and collaborative models will matter in media, mapping, education, smarter cities, national security, disaster response and much more in 2011 and beyond. The success of open source in building systems that work at scale offers an important lesson to government leaders as well: to meet grand national challenges and create standards for the future, often it's best to work collectively on them.

The full agenda for Tech@State: Open Source is available at On Saturday, there will also be an Tech@State unconference on open source at the National Democratic Institute.

The livestream for Tech@State: Open Source is embedded below.

Comments: 1

Peter Groen [29 October 2011 09:55 AM]

So many high quality public domain or open source solutions now available for government at all levels to use. In the health care arena, check out Open Health News at and the COSI Open Health IT web site at There are EHR, PHR, HIE, mHealth, Public Health and so many other Health IT systems and apps it boggles the mind. Open Health solutions need to be high on government health care agency agendas.