The Democrats pretend to be the party that knows all about high tech. But some of them would get lost on a leisurely Sunday-afternoon drive through Silicon Valley. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whom the Great Mentioner has suggested for consideration as the Democratic nominee for president, circa 2020, has inserted a couple of provisions into the National Defense Authorization Act which, if enacted, would put in jeopardy just about every Pentagon computer system and leave the country less safe, but — and here’s why the Warren mischief is so attractive to Democrats — make the bureaucracy much bigger.
Ms. Warren wants the Defense Department to program all new technologies with “open source” software. “Open source” sounds good — who doesn’t want the government to be “open” about what it’s up to — but “open source” is the same kind of computer code that put Equifax at the mercy of hackers who stole the private financial information of 143 million Americans.
The language that Ms. Warren wants included in the legislation would require that the code be made “available to anyone for any purpose,” and “anyone” would necessarily include China, Iran, North Korea and any others with villainous purpose in mind. All of them would love to get a peek at the way America’s military systems operate and, “open source” would provide that peek.
Ms. Warren’s legislative language further requires that these new software technologies be built by in-house government programmers and contractors, not by engineers and technicians of the private sector, where most of the talent and experience reside. She’s trying to engineer a government takeover of intellectual property of technology companies already doing business with the Department of Defense.
All defense contractors would be required to turn over their existing source code — which most companies regard as their crown jewels — to the Pentagon. Companies that resist would be barred from working on future defense contracts and could even lose contracts they already have.
If this sounds like something out of “Alice in Wonderland,” that’s because that’s apparently where Ms. Warren’s idea originated. Instead of continuing to rely on the private sector, whence most of the nation’s technological ideas and innovations spring, Ms. Warren would move it all inside the government to be run by the same people who were responsible for the Obamacare exchange websites.
If the Trump administration is looking for a place to swing the cost-cutting ax, the ax-swingers should look at the in-house, taxpayer-funded government tech “startups” like 18F and the U.S. Digital Service, populated by Obama administration holdovers who still haven’t found a job.
There’s still time to strike the language in House-Senate conference before the National Defense Authorization Act goes to the president for his signature. Otherwise Ms. Warren’s scheme will open government agencies, including the Defense Department, to any American enemy with the smarts to get online, and there’s no scarcity of those.
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