Government Reinforces Software Guidelines | Citizens Against Government Waste

Government Reinforces Software Guidelines

Press Release

For Immediate ReleaseContact:  Mark Carpenter/Tom Finnigan

July 12, 2004

(202) 467-5300


“Taxpayers will benefit by cost comparison between open source and

proprietary software,” says Schatz

(Washington, D.C.) – Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) today applauded the efforts by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure that federal agencies follow vendor-neutral regulations for software acquisition.  While several state and local governments, along with foreign countries, have a priority for open source operating systems for their computers, it is essential that the federal government protect taxpayers by making a full cost comparison between open source and proprietary software.

“People mistakenly refer to open source as ‘free’ software because it can be freely altered and distributed. Yet while the software itself is free, the cost to maintain and upgrade it can become very expensive,” CAGW President Tom Schatz said.  “Like all procurement decisions, the best policy on the use of software is to place all products on equal footing so that taxpayers receive the best quality programs at the least cost.”

On July 1, OMB issued a memorandum to government senior procurement executives and chief information officers as a reminder of federal regulations on software acquisition.  The memo reaffirmed much of what CAGW has been saying for years, that “agencies must consider the total cost of ownership including lifecycle maintenance costs, the costs associated with risk issues, including security and privacy of data, and the costs of ensuring security of the IT system itself.”

“While the initial acquisition of open source software may be less costly, most studies conclude that acquisition costs represent only 5 to 10 percent of total cost of ownership,” Schatz continued.  “Maintenance, training and support are far more expensive with open source than proprietary software.”

Most open source software licenses require the user to make its code, and any change made to it, available to others.  This makes it popular among computer enthusiasts who do not have to wait for software updates as they would with proprietary software.  However, because of the public exchange of code, security concerns are raised, especially for government IT systems.  The OMB memo noted that open source software has more complex licensing requirements, requiring review by agency general counsel, which also adds to its costs.

“The OMB was right to reiterate the requirements that the government should fairly weigh its options for both open source and proprietary software,” Schatz concluded.  “If agencies do not fully evaluate the overall expense of ownership, the wrong decision could cost taxpayers for years to come.”

Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, mismanagement and abuse in government.


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