Rockefeller makes support for open source explicit

The danger in Rockefeller's legislative move is that open source could become a partisan issue, which it is not. It will be interesting to see if Republicans seeking funding for 2010 start soliciting donations from proprietary companies promising to "get government out of the software business."

A few weeks ago, while writing about the open source hospital software company Medsphere, I mentioned that one of their success stories is in West Virginia and that the state's junior Senator, Jay Rockefeller (right), had placed into the Obama stimulus a study of open source in medicine.

Now he has made that support much more explicit with what he calls "The Health Information Technology Public Utility Act of 2009." The bill will be designated as Senate Bill 90.

The bill would create a Public Utility Board under NCHIT David Blumenthal to push a model of open source health software, offer grants to hospitals which adopt the model, ensure interoperability with other systems, and create quality measures for the software.

While introducing his bill Rockefeller did not mention Medsphere, whose software is installed at many state hospitals. Instead he focused on the Veteran Administration's VistA system, and the NHIN-Connect system for linking medical records installed by Harris Corp., which includes a lot of open source software from Sun.

The Commerce Committee was Sen. John McCain's power base during the first Bush Administration, and was then led by Sen. Ted Stevens before Rockefeller took it over when Democrats regained the Senate majority in 2007. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is now the ranking Republican member. S. 90 is currently the lead news story at the committee's Web site.

Until now open source has mainly gained strength in government under the radar, where its advocates have often been outgunned by business interests with a contracting mindset.

The danger in Rockefeller's legislative move is that open source could become a partisan issue, which it is not. It will be interesting to see if Republicans seeking funding for 2010 start soliciting donations from proprietary companies promising to "get government out of the software business."