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.
This is a direct avenue for the department to tap into a worldwide community of developers to collectively speed up and strengthen the software development process. In exchange, DoD program code hosted on GitHub will be open and available for individuals to reuse and repurpose for personal and public projects.
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.
“We want to better incorporate the norms of the open source and free software communities into the department,” said Sharon Woods, DDS legal counsel. “We hope this agreement will serve as a bridge so we can use widely adopted open source licenses even without U.S. copyright protections.”
Call to action
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.