New DOD software coding will increase private-sector involvement
- By Katherine Owens
- Feb 27, 2017
The Department of Defense (DOD) has unveiled a software coding initiative that could transform the creation and quality of DOD software projects, and the interactions between federal, private sector, and individual software developers.
The initiative, known as Code.mil, is headed by the Defense Digital Service (DDS), a team representing DOD’s effort to increase public-private collaboration in the software industry. Code.mil represents the next step in this endeavor with its objective of connecting the vast amount of individual coding talent and skill with DOD software projects open to improvements.
To make this possible, the DOD is using the software-building program GitHub as a storage platform for DOD projects where they can be reviewed and revised by individual coders. Anyone can access the repository simply by searching the code.mil URL, and users are greeted with the announcement, “Welcome to Code.mil—an experiment in Open Source at the Department of Defense.”
Pentagon officials emphasize that more public-private collaboration brings substantial advantages to DOD.
"Code.mil is the Department of Defense’s (DoD) latest initiative to foster open collaboration between the global software development community and DoD open source projects. We are actively adopting modern software best practices to achieve more rapid development and security for tools and applications our military and civilians rely upon for their missions," said Lt. Col. Eric Badger, Pentagon spokesman.
Contributors are directed to read the draft Defense Open Source Agreement (DOSA) and are required only to submit a Developer’s Certificate of Origin and a “Signed-off-by” line with their contributions.
The DOSA is the key to the Code.mil initiative and has the potential to change the nature of federal-private software collaboration. According to DOD, open source is a best practice in the coding industry. It allows programmers to copyright their software and then license it so that it can be freely redistributed, with the original source code, and freely adapted and improved. As reported by Sloan Review of MIT, the open source concept has been crucial to quality and innovation in the software industry.
However, federal employees cannot copyright their government work, so the federal government has been previously unable to open source their projects. Code.mil overcomes this by establishing open source privileges contractually rather than through patent law.
Anyone who agrees to the DOSA is legally able to work on all DOD software projects hosted on GitHub, and is likewise able to replicate any of the project code for other personal or public projects.
Code.mil is still in its early stages and GitHub is currently serving as a platform for participants to voice suggestions about the final version of the DOSA and the initiative as a whole. Feedback can be submitted through the GitHub’s Issue and Pull Request mechanisms, and it is clear from these that Code.mil has gotten the attention of the coding community.
Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems