Technology — both in application and message — was a big part of the Barack Obama presidential campaign. Now that President Obama has been sworn in, technology appears to still be front and center. Case in point: Co-founder and former CEO of SunMicrosystems, Scott McNealy revealed to the BBC this week that he had been tapped by the Obama administration to write a paper on the benefits to the government of using open source.
“The government ought to mandate open source products based on open source reference implementations to improve security, get higher quality software, lower costs, higher reliability — all the benefits that come with open software.”
So, where might President Obama apply open source? If you look through his technology agenda (which makes no mention of open source), one section that pops out falls under the topic of Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs).
Lower Health Care Costs by Investing in Electronic Information Technology Systems: Use health information technology to lower the cost of health care. Invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to move the U.S. health care system to broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, including electronic health records.
While this sounds promising, there are a host of issues that quickly appear when you start to dig a little deeper into the migration toward EHRs.
Most estimates put the cost of moving medical records in the US to an electronic system in upwards of $100 billion and would take more than 10 years to implement.
So not only would you have to solve all of the problems of security, standards, and existing record scanning just to get started, you would then need to go in and put computers on a lot of desks where there are none.1
Old habits — particularly in Washington — die hard. But I take the new President at his word when he said in his inauguration speech:
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works [...] Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
I think that requesting a paper on open source from Mr. McNealy is a good first step in that direction. So here’s to openness — from the circuitboard to the citizenry– at every level government.