Transparency is a word that holds a great deal of importance to Free & Fair. After all, we develop and give away open source software. Open source software embodies transparency because anyone can review, audit, contribute, and extend it.
The decision to open source our technology was an easy one. Many of the high assurance systems we develop for the Department Of Defense (DOD) and other agencies at our parent company, Galois, are open source. Companies like Red Hat turn a profit giving away their products. Finally, as our CEO Joe Kiniry has advocated over fifteen years as a public employee and professor advising governments around the world, any digital voting system that cannot be scrutinized in detail by the public, including all its source code and detailed information about its hardware components, should not be trusted.
But we are not satisfied with technical transparency alone. If we want to disrupt the broken election systems market, we must practice business transparency. We want to do the opposite of what other vendors do—secret software, secret contracts, secret pricing—so we must, as Galois CEO Rob Wiltbank says, be embarrassingly transparent.
That is why we are committed to making every piece of advice we have given, every RFI response we have written and submitted, and every RFP proposal response we have written and submitted to potential clients available to the world. Anyone can download all of these in an archive, and the technically-inclined can clone our Proposals repository from GitHub and keep up with our work by pulling changes.
The Repository’s Contents
There are three main kinds of documents in the Transparency repository: research funding proposals, Request for Information (RFI) responses, and Request for Proposal (RFP) responses.
(To the geeks in the audience: you can browse the repository from two different perspectives, by kind and (coarsely) by date. The master branch of the repository contains the former (as does the branch “kind”), and the “date” branch contains the data reorganized in the obvious way.)
Research funding proposals are written for non-profit foundations, typically with other organizations we are aligned with such as the U.S. Vote Foundation and the Open Source Elections Technology Foundation. Perhaps someday you will see proposals appear in there directed to federal agencies as well.
RFI responses provide the authorities guidance on everything from our product line, our strategic directions, indicative information about the cost of engineering and support, and even helping them understand what is possible, and impossible, using 21st century R&D. You may even find us trying to convince the authorities not to pursue a line of work because, perhaps, their ideas are not a wise use of public resources or would introduce vulnerabilities in their elections.
Finally, RFP responses are our concrete offers to develop bespoke, hardened, high assurance software and hardware systems and provide services. There you will see how we claim to fulfill customer requirements and aim to obtain certification. You will also see our pricing information.
Obviously, our thinking will evolve over time about everything from technology choices to pricing. This evolution is directly witnessed in our proposals. As we are an evidence-based company, as we learn more about this market—from the needs of our customers to today’s actual cost of elections—our pricing is likely to change. We’ll dive into pricing in much more detail in a future article.
Our Process Moving Forward
We will make the following commitment to transparency:
- When we submit anything “proposal-like” we will let the authorities know that we intend to make it public.
- We will publish the submission to the Transparency repository approximately one week following this notice.
- We will tweet a notification of that publication as @free_and_fair.
We encourage others working in the election space to reflect upon our business transparency strategy. In fact, we challenge other vendors to publish their RFP responses and witness the same transparency that we have. Governments and citizens are better served by transparency than opacity when it comes to the critical system we call democracy.