Testimony in support of Free and Open Source Software Act and Civic Commons Act

Open source advocates providing testimony to New York City Council.

To: NYC Council – Committee on Contracts
From: Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC
Re: Int 365-2014 & Int 366-2014

Tuesday, 22 February 2016

Dear Chairperson Rosenthal and the NYC Committee on Contracts,

It is an honor to have this opportunity to represent New York City’s civic technology, design, and data community.

I am the Executive Director of BetaNYC, a member driven good government organization. Currently, we are over 3,300 members. Our mission is to improve people’s lives using technology, data and design while advocating for a City government, for the people, by the people, for the 21st Century.

In 2014, we published a “People’s Roadmap to a Digital New York City where we outline the need for New York City government to adopt more free and open source software. We fundamentally agree with Intro 366-2014’s preamble. “The acquisition and widespread deployment of free and open source software can significantly reduce the city’s costs of obtaining and maintaining software.”

We applaud the Council and this committee for holding this hearing and exploring innovative ways to save the City money, grow small businesses, and bring government technology into the 21st century.

We support Int 365-2014 & Int 366-2014 and have a few ideas.

Intro 366-2014 — Free and Open Source Software Act

From my professional experience working in and out of Government, open source software provides the greatest flexibility and efficiency. Intro 366-2014 is a great start.

We are very happy to see New York City government explore the need to adopt a unified open source workflow and reporting mechanisms.

Municipally developed open source software leads to small business growth. Currently, DoITT’s GIS department is an excellent example of how municipal open source software empowers small business. The City maintains a free geocoder that saves small businesses millions of dollars in address translation look up fees.

  • We feel this bill doesn’t go far enough to detail current adoption of open source software. It would be great to know how much of the City’s software infrastructure is open source. We are not asking for a listing of all adopted open source libraries, just a reporting structure where a single agency can report on its open source adoption and light the path for sibling agencies. An excellent example is Department of Transportation’s adoption of Drupal and Shareabouts.
  • This law doesn’t go into details around the adoption of open file formats. The City’s reporting mechanism should have some middle ground for proprietary applications that produce open file formats.
  • A point of note, this bill doesn’t address internet of things issues. As the Mayor’s Office of Technology Innovation and the Economic Development Corporation develop their Neighborhood Labs and evangelize the manifestation of a “smart city” embedded devices and the internet of things (IoT) needs to be taken into consideration.
  • Lastly, great open source applications have clear documentation, design documents, and are open from the start. Any annual report should highlight applications and tools that promote good open source ecology.


Intro 365-2014 — Civic Commons Act

In general, we love this idea. In 2009, when I was the Director of Technology Innovation at the State Senate, I begged for a catalog of free and open source software used in Government—a Civic Commons— to become a boy. Sadly, this Pinocchio’s dream never came true.

As a staff member of Code for America, and now at BetaNYC, I have witnessed first hand the need for a catalog of free and open source software used in Government. We continue to congratulate this City’s adoption and publication of code on GitHub, but this isn’t enough. DoITT’s tip-toeing through the adoption of open source is too slow. Open source software is mature and safe and our City should be leading the path to municipal adoption. This Pinocchio dreams for this City to adopt a free and open source practice and produce a catalog of how free and open source software is adopted.

  • Our primary concern with the Civic Commons Act is around cross municipality procurement. Would this prevent the City’s ability to acquire free and open source software. This language is a bit confusing.
  • Would this Civic Commons Act be a catalogue, app store, or showcase? Who will maintain the Civic Commons Act software?
  • What happens when another city sees New York City software and wants to “procure” a copy?
  • Will the Civic Commons Act software platform allow for me to submit bug reports, read documentation or implementation documents?
  • If I have questions about code, will the Civic Commons Act platform be my one stop shop?