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Answering the Call for Open Source Government

President Obama came to office with the promise of change. His administration has pledged to create an environment of openness and participation. Some have already called him the “open source president” such as consultant and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos.

There’s no better time than now. Transparency builds trust. Participation solves problems. And we believe that open source provides an answer.

Red Hat is excited that the Obama administration recognizes the value of open source beyond software. Open source principles are changing how we learn, how we share information, how developers create, and how companies do business. Now it has the opportunity to change our government.

When information is open and individuals have the means to contribute, everyone shares in the responsibility for improvement. Informed citizens become engaged citizens. Engaged citizens contribute opinions, ideas, and effort. Our government has pledged to listen. It’s time to give citizens a new voice.

We must build the structure and culture for participation, from the highest levels of government to municipal town halls. We need to unlock the doors that stand between citizens and information. Both infrastructure and information must be open and easily accessible to all.

It begins with government itself. Open source can provide an effective way for government to cut costs and ensure open access to information. Lowering the costs of infrastructure will help provide resources for our government to focus on finding solutions to the challenges that lie ahead.

In the private sector, Linux and open source have brought choice and cost savings. Large organizations, including some Federal, state, and local government agencies, have adopted open source as an alternative to expensive proprietary technology. Open source has already saved the Federal Government a substantial amount of money and can provide an opportunity to save millions more.

Open source can also provide access to information. Open Document Format, or ODF, is a standard that asserts that public documents should be based in open, non-proprietary formats that anyone can read at any time. To date more than 15 national governments have endorsed the standard. We believe citizens shouldn’t have to pay twice to access information that already belongs to them. Also, as closed formats become obsolete, documents and data could be lost. ODF keeps public information public.

We have seen what can happen when the public has access to information. A model of transparency and participation offers the promise of an answer to our ailing economy. The effort of many, even in small ways, can be mobilized toward solving the largest problems.

This is why open source is an ideal model for government. It thrives on open communication. It is collaborative to its core. With the same models employed in government, we believe that representatives can distribute more information more quickly, and in turn, citizens can share the knowledge representatives need to make informed decisions.

Open source principles are changing everything around us. User-driven models lower the barrier to publish and access content. With Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, we have all become creators and curators, exchanging information freely.

We believe that open source also creates a meritocracy, an environment where everyone can contribute, and ideas are adopted and rewarded based on their merit. A meritocracy recognizes that the best ideas can come from anyone, anywhere.

There were signs that a new era of openness had begun even before Obama was sworn in–from a campaign that encouraged participation, to Change.gov, the transition site for the new administration. Change.gov was an effort to provide regular information to citizens, create a forum for ideas, and foster an ongoing dialog. The site has now transitioned to Whitehouse.gov, and it reinforces the Obama Administration’s commitment to create the most open and accessible administration in our nation’s history.

We believe that the Obama Administration has an unprecedented opportunity to use open source to spark innovation and positive change. It won’t happen overnight, but all levels of government can make it happen if they work collaboratively and follow Obama’s rallying cry, “Yes, we can.”