New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Tech Legislation to Establish Free and Open Source Software Preference and Code-Sharing Introduced by New York City Council Member/Software Developer Ben Kallos



Tech Legislation to Establish Free and Open Source Software Preference and Code-Sharing Introduced by New York City Council Member/Software Developer Ben Kallos

FOSS and Civic Commons Legislation Posted for Public Comment and Amendment Online



New York, NY – Free and Open Source Software developer turned New York City Council Member Ben Kallos today introduced legislation mandating a preference for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and creating a Civic Commons website to facilitate collaborative purchasing of software between agencies, cities, states and the federal government to save taxpayer dollars.


Int. 366, Free and Open Source Software Act (FOSSA), would minimize city contracts for proprietary software in favor of free and open source software (FOSS) that can be shared between government agencies and bodies. Proprietary programs require the city and other municipalities, including the state, to pay private vendors over and over again for the same code while FOSS provides the city with power over the code and the freedom to study, modify, upgrade, improve, customize, maintain and redistribute within agencies and to other cities or states. Free software means code that is free from proprietary constraints, not free of charge.


Int. 365, The Civic Commons Act, would encourage the collaborative software purchasing of free and open source software among agencies, cities and states to pool resources, avoid duplicated effort, create portable expertise, grow jobs, and reduce costs. A Civic Commons FOSS portal would be created to facilitate collaborative software purchasing and host the collaborative FOSS source code as well as FOSS projects identified as useful for government use. Civic Commons is currently a project of Code for America, a not-for-profit hosted at with more information available at


Both bills will be open for public comment and amendment online through,, and Madison, a project of OpenGov Foundation.


 “Our government belongs to the people and so should its software. Proprietary software and contracts that lock our government into paying top dollar for obsolete code and hardware belongs in the past,” said New York City Council Member Ben Kallos a free and open source software developer and Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee. “If Oklahoma and New Hampshire can have an open source preference, surely New York City – home of Silicon Alley – can do this and more.  Free and Open Source Software will save taxpayers money, spur innovation and grow jobs right here in New York City.”


The FOSS preference legislation follows three previous successful initiatives, one on the Federal level by Congress Member Darrell Issa that recently passed the House of Representatives, along with two states, New Hampshire and Oklahoma, that have already passed similar legislation into law.


Congress Member Darrell Issa circulated a discussion draft in 2012, then in 2013 introduced the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, H.R. 1232, which passed the house on February 25, 2014.  In 2012, New Hampshire was the first state in the nation to pass a law providing a preference for free and open source software, followed by Oklahoma that same year.  New Hampshire’s legislation HB 418, was introduced by New Hampshire State Representative Seth Cohn in 2011 and signed by the Governor in 2012. Oklahoma’s legislation HB 2197, was introduced by Oklahoma State Representative Jason Murphey, and was passed and signed shortly after introduction in 2012.


"Investing in free and open-source software is critical to creating modern governments that deliver better service and more value," said Congressman Darrell Issa.  "But across America, outdated procurement rules block the information technology innovation we need, forcing citizens to foot the bill for billions of dollars wasted on expensive proprietary software boondoggles. I applaud Councilman Kallos' efforts to fix the retrograde purchasing rules preventing New York City from realizing the significant benefits of bringing open source software into municipal government," said Congress Member Darrell E. Issa the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (R – California, District 49).


“Open source software can provide substantial cost savings and technological flexibility,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12). “Governments at all levels should always be working to get taxpayers the best bang for their buck and open source software, along with collaborative software purchasing arrangements, can be great ways to save money and get better services. I was proud to support a similar bipartisan initiative when it came before Congress, and I applaud Council Member Kallos for his efforts in the city council. He has the right expertise to move this effort forward.”


"Oklahoma taxpayers have already realized a substantial fiscal benefit as a result of our open source software legislation and it is reasonable to expect these same savings can be realized by New York City and the other jurisdictions which are courageous enough pass this legislation," said Oklahoma State Representative Jason Murphey, Vice Chair of the General Government Committee (R – Logan, District 31).


“I'm thrilled to see Open Source promoting legislation happening in New York.  My work as a State Representative in New Hampshire, sponsoring and passing the first Open Source/Open Data law in the country, continues to bear fruit like this effort, and I'd love to see New York City embracing this, a win for everyone,” said former New Hampshire State Representative Seth Cohn (R – Merrimack, District 6).


"Government must move to free/libre software so it can maintain full control over the computing it does for us.  This bill takes a first step towards that goal," said Richard Stallman, Founder of GNU Project and Free Software Foundation.


"The Sunlight Foundation encourages the use of open source software and open standards as a means to reduce barriers to information. Removing licensing restrictions on software makes it easier to share government information across platforms -- and, ultimately, with the public in whose name it was collected," said Emily Shaw, National Policy Manager for the Sunlight Foundation.


"It's an exciting time for civic technology in the NYC Council, and this proposal from Council Member Kallos would put NYC at the lead of the open-government movement nationwide. Public data should be open to the public in full. Ben Kallos' bills lay that important foundation for real public accountability, and open-source tools make it possible to build innovative new tools for civic engagement on top of new open data,” said David Moore, Executive Director of the Participatory Politics Foundation.


“Government using open source software is good for everyone. In our work with NYC DOT and other forward-thinking city agencies around the US, we've seen how open source tools get better and better with each city that   gets involved, to the benefit of all. Bringing the same approach to tech procurement in NYC will bring benefits to taxpayers by reducing project risk, increasing the opportunity for new businesses to work with the city, and improve the quality of software that powers many city operations. OpenPlans has advocated for more open source in government for many years, so we are very excited to see Council Member Kallos' proposals lead to more public discussion of these important issues,” said Frank Hebbert, Director of Civic Works at OpenPlans.


"In 2010, our successful adoption of a range of open source software in the New York State Senate allowed us to innovate quickly while significantly cutting the IT budget of the Senate in the bargain. We thus became part of a growing movement of "government to government" sharing of open source software resulting in the launch of Code for America's "Civic Commons" project.  However, New York City has

historically lagged in its adoption of open source software, which can be at least as secure, reliable, and supported as traditional software that often costs much more.  This bill has the potential to slingshot

New York City to the forefront of this exciting open source civic software movement,” said Andrew Hoppin, CEO, Nuams, and former CIO, New York State Senate.


"Firms that provide technology to government have a responsibility to provide employment forecasts along side earnings forecasts. FOSS firms may not generate 30% earnings, but they do create jobs which helps local economies," said Henry Poole, CEO of CivicActions, Inc.


"Council member Kallos is part of a new generation of officials who understand the need for fundamental technology governance in the 21st century. Collectively, these amendments will result in a government that is more transparent and more accountable to its citizenry, strengthening New York's leadership in smart governance through the appropriate leveraging of technology," said Tristan Louis, open governance activist at


"Though the Free and Open Source Software Act (FOSSA) and Civic Commons Act (CCA) New Yorkers can maximize their tax dollars and access to a 21st century democracy. These two bills give New Yorkers a solid foundation in digital democracy rooted in affordable, safe, and accessible civic software. BetaNYC supports the Free and Open Source Software Act (FOSSA) and Civic Commons Act (CCA).


"In BetaNYC's People's Roadmap to a Digital New York City, we called upon this Mayor and Council to broaden their adoption of open source and stand on the shoulders of giants. We are living in a world where code is law and law is code. In today's city, we are governed by laws and software code that governs our interactions. We call this the "code is law" maxim.


"Though these two bills, this city joins a small collection of governments who see open source software as municipal infrastructure. Like roads, sanitation, and air quality, civic infrastructure needs proper maintenance. For a modern and efficient government, we need resilient, secure, and open infrastructure. Open source software is safe, sustainable, and rooted in participatory democracy. 


"With access to open code, we can design platforms that reflect our democratic beliefs. Open source code maximizes the opportunity to include more people in the conversation. It is one of the few software products that   can be easily translated into every imaginable language," said Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC.


"The combination of using open source software and ensuring a common and continuous forum for communication and collaboration, this set of bills can significantly increase the rate of shared innovation, reduce duplicative costs and transform how government operates for the better," said Dazza Greenwood, who heads the new LegalPhysics initiative at the MIT Media Lab.  "At MIT we have had the pleasure of collaborating with City Council Member Kallos on on his efforts to organize several jurisdictions to publish public laws as open and freely accessible data, marking yet another profoundly important civic reform for the digital age. From New York City, Ben Kallos is demonstrating the type of smart leadership needed at the national level," said Dazza Greenwood, a lecturer and research scientist at the MIT Media Lab.



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