Government Open Code Collaborative launched

Eleven U.S. government agencies have officially launched the Government Open Code Collaborative, a voluntary effort between the public sector and non-profit academic institutions to encourage the sharing of computer code developed for and by government entities.

The organization wants to break down barriers to sharing computer code among various government entities, said Peter Quinn, CIO of the commonwealth of Massachusetts and chairman of the new GOCC.

“We in the commonwealth have tried to share the fruits of our IT development with other states in the past, and when we’ve done that, we’ve had to negotiate agreements with the lawyers of other states’ agencies, and it becomes very laborious, time-consuming and expensive,” Quinn said. “And very often, we get to the point where somebody puts the kibosh on it.”

Quinn said the group wants to set up a legal and operational framework to allow various government entities to be able to transfer code they develop to other government operations, free of charge.

“In thinking about open-source development, we would develop something, give it to somebody else, and they would enhance it, and we’d (all) benefit from the enhancement,” he said. “Because when you think about states, cities and towns, we all essentially do the same thing: We collect taxes, we pay child support, we pay welfare, we house prisoners, we register cars.”

The effort began last December, Quinn said, when several government agencies from around the country joined together to create the GOCC. The group isn’t affiliated with any professional organization or company, nor will it accept money or in-kind services from any vendor — a move aimed at keeping it independent, he said.

“We’re sort of off and running. The idea is to start to share the fruits of everybody’s labour with other folks,” Quinn said.

The signers of the agreement can “deposit” code as well as withdraw it. While any legal government agency or quasi public/private organization can withdraw code, none is allowed to deposit code unless it has signed the GOCC agreement.

“To make this as communal as possible and to reach the widest possible audience, we decided any agency within a city or town and any legal entity within a state could participate,” Quinn said. “For example, the legislatures can sign up themselves, or the secretaries of state can sign up, or different constitutional officers can sign up, as well as the quasi public/private organizations. Creating these communities of interest is the best way to generate an opportunity for everybody.”

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