“Where it is technically possible and economical, open source software should be used with priority.” This has been in paragraph 4 of the Thuringian Public Procurement Act since 2020. This makes Thuringia a model country when it comes to the willingness to use software with open source code in public administration. But now the Open Source Business Alliance (OSBA) is warning of a “dramatic step backwards”: In the planned reform of the law, the opposition CDU is pushing for the priority for open source to be removed without replacement.
This proposal is incomprehensible, since the 2019 CDU federal party conference decided on openness as a standard in its digital charter and committed itself to the “public money, public code” principle. Accordingly, publicly financed IT solutions should be made available to the general public.
From the point of view of the citizens, the administration itself and from an “economic point of view, the priority use of open source software results in a positive economic balance”, emphasized the OSBA in a statement to the Thuringian state parliament published on Wednesday. Looking at the time horizon, a proprietary solution that is cheaper today will not necessarily be so tomorrow. If an authority is only in the often described dependencies, they have to participate in all future license cost increases of a provider and can no longer simply switch.
CDU sees double regulation
Andreas Bühl, digital policy spokesman for the Christian Democrats in Thuringia, cannot understand the concern about a loss of trust. “The CDU parliamentary group is not against the use of open source software in public administration,” he told heise online. “The best software solution should be chosen.” However, the Thuringian law for the promotion of electronic administration already regulates the handling of programs with open source code. Its paragraph 2 reads: “Where it is technically possible and economical, the use of open source software should be given priority over software whose source code is not publicly accessible and whose license restricts use, transfer and modification.”
The additional passage in the current public procurement law is therefore “a completely ineffective, because double regulation that does not contribute to any further promotion of the use of open source applications”.
OSBA: Parallel regulation is important in practice
In fact, the country’s e-government law already contains a comparable passage. In addition, the following requirement is included: “In the case of new software that is developed by the public administration or specially for it, the source code must be placed under a suitable free software and open source license and published, provided that there are no security-related ones tasks to be fulfilled.” According to Miriam Seyffarth, head of political communication at OSBA, this is not enough: “The e-government law provides fundamental impetus for the digitization of administration, it formulates political intentions and goals, but is not binding for individual authorities or procurement offices in everyday procurement .”
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The Public Procurement Act, on the other hand, makes specific specifications for the procurement and contracting authorities, explains Seyffarth. In addition, the E-Government Act primarily focuses on administrative and specialist procedures, while the Public Procurement Act also applies in cases where infrastructure is involved, for example. Anchoring the priority for open source in both laws makes sense and does not represent any redundancy. The CDU also apparently fails to recognize that in practice, often out of ignorance, convenience or other reasons, “well-known” but not necessarily more suitable software, for example from Microsoft will be given preference.
The OSBA supports the amendment draft of the government coalition of the parliamentary groups Die Linke, SPD and Grünen, because there the open source priority in the public procurement law should remain unchanged. However, the organization advises even greater priority: the restriction to “technically possible and economical” should be deleted.
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