Best Practices for Open Source in Government (Using GitHub)

Nov 6, 2013

Working on getting your agency to release an open source policy? Awesome! But if you want an effective open source program, you have to tightly integrate open source into how your agency procures, builds, and distributes technology.

You’re not alone! There’s a growing community of government technologists on GitHub working on these issues – a place where you can quickly get the best advice. We’re contributing to this forum because we saw governments at all levels dealing with the same kinds of questions:

  • How do I choose an open source license?
  • What procurement boilerplate should I use for open source software?
  • Should I have a contribution agreement? What should it say?
  • Doesn’t the Antideficiency Act prevent public contributions to my open source project? (Spoiler: it doesn’t!)
  • Can I build my technology project in the open from the beginning?

These are just fraction of the answers you’ll need to build a successful open source program. Historically, there haven’t been a lot of best practices on how to do this work within the constraints of government – until now!

If you haven’t used GitHub before, it’s a platform for sharing code and collaborating on content. Agencies are increasingly releasing repositories of open source code on GitHub. We’re seeing tremendous successes, and also some major failures. But most importantly, we’re all learning as we go, in a forum where we can get immediate feedback from the public and technology experts in the private sector. We’re not just providing a semi-private community for federal employees, we’re also showcasing the latest open government work from around the world.

Signing up is simple – just make sure you have a verified government email on your GitHub account. You can have multiple email addresses per account.

Once that’s done, point your favorite browser at You should be automatically added to the organization and can head to at any time to get started. If you’re having issues joining the community, email

We know it’s hard to stay on top of emerging open source standards. Especially when the best practices themselves are improving and changing so quickly! We’re here to help. GitHub for Government was setup by Ben Balter, a first-round Presidential Innovation Fellow. He’s written code for the CFPB, FCC, and the White House – he understands the promise and challenge of setting up an open source program.

If you have overall questions, reach out! I’m @noahkunin on Twitter and I’ll make time for anyone who’s engaged with this work. You can also check out the CFPB’s new open source portal on GitHub. Hope to see you in the community soon!