18F, the U.S. Government’s digital services agency, is trying an experiment in which they use federal dollars to pay for development of their open source projects. Micro-purchases in the government are those purchases which are under $3,500 and can be made using a “purchase card”.

This is similar to bug bounties or other open source bounties where a developer is paid to develop code for particular features or bugs that users really want.

As the start of the their experiment, 18F will be creating a task that needs to be done (either a bug fix or a feature build). Contractors will be able to bid down the price starting from $3,499. Their goal is to show that making the code open source and with a little cash incentive, developers can be attracted to working on government projects. They also want to lower the costs of software development for government. It’s well-known that governments typically over-pay for software that hardly works or that works but only after the initial time and budget estimates are over-shot by 300% or more.

I wish them luck on this experiment and hopefully other governments can take a page from 18F and start releasing more free/open source software into the world and start supporting open source development through bounty programs similar to 18F’s micro-purchasing experiment.

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