White House tells agencies, think 'open innovation'

Open source software advocate calls budget memo largely meaningless

The White House is telling its agencies to pursue an "open innovation"-approach to government, be visionary in their spending requests, and focus on "transformative" projects that help the climate, energy, life expectancy and the economy.

President Barack Obama's administration wants federal agencies, as they prepare the 2011 fiscal year budget, to shift spending away from "lower-priority areas" to forward-looking projects. The 2010 fiscal year begins Oct. 1. A budget for 2011 will likely be submitted in early spring.

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote (PDF document) that the federal government, and John Holdren, who heads science and technology policy, should pursue a development process that is "highly open to ideas from many players, at all stages."

The "open innovation" concept is akin to that used in open source circles. But longtime open source advocate Eric S. Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, read the White House memo and said he believed its call for open innovation is largely meaningless.

"It is rather unusual, these days, for even proprietary innovations to have developed entirely from theory to product application under a single roof; the model of research funding under which that sort of thing could be common died along with Bell Labs when changing business conditions forced most of the few corporate players who could afford it to effectively abandon basic research," Raymond said in an e-mail.

Perhaps the most important message in the White House memo was its encouragement to federal scientists to "have ongoing contact with people who know what's involved in making and using things, from cost and competitive factors to the many practical constraints and opportunities that can arise when turning ideas into reality."

During President George Bush's administration, the White House was faulted in a congressional committee report and by many scientists generally, for censoring climate change scientists, in particular.


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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