Government agencies turn to Drupal despite procurement challenges

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Using open source software in the federal government is challenging, but the problem is not due to the technology. The problem lies with old procurement models and regulations that are better suited for buying file cabinets and missiles than negotiating licenses for "free" open source software.

Still, the desire within government to use open source is strong, and it's driving some to McGyver-like lengths to use what they think is best suited for the job.  

"If I have the Internet, an intern, a thumb drive and open source I can kind of do just about anything," said Greg Elin, chief data officer at the Federal Communications Commission, during a Feb. 11 open source-focused event called Tech@State. 

One development is making things easier, however: The emergence of open source solutions that have a paid element, such as Alfresco and Acquia. The solutions look more like their proprietary counterparts, and that's something government has an easier time buying and managing, explained event attendees.

No matter how govvies overcome obstacles to open source adoption, their appetite is undeniable. In the last two months Energy.gov and House.gov joined the growing list of government entities using Drupal--what's quickly becoming the web content management system of choice in Washington. Many believe Drupal's high-profile adoption by WhiteHouse.gov in November 2009 paved the way for other agencies to use it.

But WhiteHouse.gov is unusual among Drupal deployments in the federal government, in that it is actively engaging with the developer community and contributing code. WhiteHouse.gov is taking the lead in demonstrating that government should be more than just a consumer of open source solutions.

Just last week, the administration released another round of code back to the Drupal community. The latest contribution provides tools that improve the popular file manager, IMCE. The tools developed by the WhiteHouse.gov team provide an interface to control directories accessed through the IMCE module, a file search tool and an IMCE file path for easier file sharing through a URL link, said White House New Media Director Macon Phillips during Tech@State.

In April 2010, WhiteHouse.gov released four contributions of custom code, developed during its first six months of Drupal implementation.

For more:
- see the White House blog post on its Drupal contribution

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