By Ryan Triplette, Executive Director, Coalition for Fair Software Licensing
Momentum for the Principles of Fair Software Licensing has been building throughout the European Union and, in recent months, reached the U.S. Capitol. In September, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) introduced legislation to improve federal IT management and identify the existing barriers—including restrictive software licensing practices—to bringing best-of-breed products and services to federal agencies. In the House, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) is currently securing co-sponsors for companion legislation, which is expected to be introduced in the weeks to come.
Curbing waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the federal government has long been a bipartisan priority in Congress. For this reason, it was not surprising to see the Peters/Cassidy bill pass through a congressional committee with unanimous support and no objection. Historically, Congressional oversight on these “good government” issues – whether eliminating budget waste, employing best practices in procurement, or improving strategic human capital management – begets prudent solutions to protect taxpayer dollars and improve government efficiency. Given the primary role of technology in the daily operations of the U.S. government, it is imperative that policymakers understand the impacts that restrictive licensing practices have on government efficiency and agency coordination.
Restrictive software licensing practices – including inflexible licensing agreements, limiting interoperability, and tying of core products to adjacent services – can prevent customers from utilizing the most productive, cost-effective, or secure software and cloud services available. For government customers, transparency is critical to determine if – and how – software vendors may be utilizing these and other tactics to boost their bottom lines at the expense of productivity, cybersecurity, and hard-earned taxpayer dollars.
To identify these issues across the federal government, the Peters/Cassidy bill, S. 4908, the Strengthening Agency Management and Oversight of Software Assets Act, requires the head of every federal agency to produce a report assessing their respective agency’s software entitlements – including identifying redundancies, the extent to which software is interoperable, and total / related costs of enterprise software agreements.
The significance of this assessment cannot be overstated. These reports will provide critical insight into how the government is currently spending its federal IT budget – and do so in a transparent and actionable way. The legislation seeks to identify the cost – both to the budget and efficiency – of restrictive licensing practices to the U.S. government to improve federal procurement, enhance cyber security practices, and limit taxpayer waste in the future. For context, the last bill passed by Congress addressing accountability in IT – the MEGABYTE Act of 2016 – reduced unnecessary agency software costs by more than $450,000,000.
Unfortunately, restrictive software licensing is not unique to contracting with the U.S. government. These tactics impede the ability of customers in both the commercial and public sector to utilize the software and cloud services that best fit their needs. However, given the pervasive monoculture of productivity software, the challenges that these limitations present to the federal government are pronounced. Across the federal government – which has a civilian workforce of nearly 2.1 million people – it is critical that technology works in harmony across agencies’ products and services, and that employees can mix and match the technology that best serves their roles.
The Strengthening Agency Management and Oversight of Software Assets Act demonstrates the growing momentum in the U.S. to hold legacy software providers accountable and help their customers reap the benefits of the cloud. It also underscores the importance of the Principles of Fair Software Licensing, and the work ahead of us to put them into practice across all sectors.