Webinar Recap: How Open Source Unlocks Data Freedom and Mission Success for Government Agencies

August 12, 2022

On June 17, 1972, five burglars broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Building in hopes of influencing the upcoming Presidential election. This shocking breach of public trust coupled with a litany of financial abuses made Watergate the most infamous political scandal in modern American history. As a result, in 1974, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was founded to prevent such meddling from happening ever again. 

Fast forward to 2015. The FEC has modernized their IT infrastructure, now leveraging open source database technologies to help them accomplish their wide range of responsibilities, including managing historical data, maintaining campaign finance disclosure systems, investigating violations and auditing campaigns for compliance.

With all this history, it’s fitting that when Government Executive (GovExec) held their recent webinar on the potential of open source in government, host and Vice President of Events George Jackson greeted all virtual attendees from, where else, but the Watergate itself.

This session, which brought together EDB’s CTO for North America Public Sector Jeremy Wilson and FEC Technical Lead Laura Beaufort was entitled “Unlocking Data Freedom: How Open Source Contributes to Mission Success.” Over the course of 30 minutes, Jackson interviewed his panelists on a number of topics. These included their personal experience with open source databases and the ways they believe government agencies can take advantage of this technology to embrace modern IT strategies—including hybrid cloud adoption and migrating away from legacy databases.

While we can’t include every insight from the conversation, we want to share some of the highlights of this conversation with you here. We also encourage you to watch the full webinar, which is currently available on-demand.


The FEC: An open source success story

Across industries, one of the greatest challenges facing organizations is rapidly growing data volumes. This is as true for government agencies as for any other institution, as Beaufort emphasized from the get-go.

The FEC’s embrace of open source databases began as a problem that many agencies are all too familiar with: their current database simply couldn’t handle the amount of data that the FEC was generating. Their publicly available data on campaign finance for past and current elections alone amounted to 5 TB and that didn’t even include the private data on which the agency’s central mission relied. Compounded by heavy traffic to their site, which generated roughly one million hits to their APIs daily, their database was buckling. 

As a result, around 2015, the FEC decided to take a more modern, hybrid approach to their data management. The first step was to build a modern, open source application and campaign finance API to help them take full advantage of both open source and the cloud’s ability to manage the exponentially growing amount of data at their disposal. For this, they used Postgres and cloud.gov, which provided them with the perfect combination of flexibility and security such a mission-critical application would require.

Next, they went about managing those 5 TB of historical campaign finance data, for which their database team was hoping to implement a series of very granular settings and controls. Once again, they turned to Postgres, this time in an AWS/Aurora instance. Chief among their criteria here was the question of performance. Because of the amount of data that would need to be queried and the number of daily interactions this database would receive, if it did not perform properly, it would become their infrastructure’s biggest bottleneck.

Backed by Postgres’ high performance, flexibility and dependable uptime, it didn’t.


Open source Postgres turns government challenges into opportunities

The FEC’s journey is a powerful example of why so many institutions have embraced open source databases like Postgres—and why government agencies should join these innovators. While the FEC’s old database turned the agency’s wealth of data and interactions into a burden that threatened to overwhelm their IT infrastructure, Postgres not only alleviated that burden, but turned the challenge of exponentially growing data into a remarkable opportunity.

As Wilson explains over the course of the webinar, data has become the most vital and most valuable resource at an organization’s disposal. Not only do institutions need to deploy database management systems (DBMS) that will secure that data, but that will also help take advantage of it. 

For government organizations, this is especially true. While retailers use data to promote sales and streamers leverage data to recommend new shows, government agencies use their data to ensure that the most important systems municipally, regionally and nationally are functioning properly. The data at the FEC’s disposal is an essential tool for ensuring the integrity of elections and the continuation of democracy. Having a database that allows that agency to manage, query and act upon their data is of the utmost importance.

In modern IT, your database isn’t just a warehouse. It’s the central organ of your tech stack which promotes the function of every other solution and application on which you rely. Open source understands this and helps you make the most of your data.


Reliability, flexibility and performance keep government agencies running

While they are only a few of many of open source databases strengths, reliability, flexibility and performance are perhaps the best examples of what makes this technology so well-suited to government agencies looking to effectively leverage their data and evolve.

Reliability is perhaps the most obvious. Often referred to as “high availability” or “extreme high availability,” this is the guarantee that your database doesn’t experience unnecessary downtime that keeps you from your mission-critical data. A database that can’t handle large volumes of data without going down is not just a liability. It’s a major roadblock for any agency that wants to take advantage of modern application development opportunities which could boost their teams’ ability to achieve.

Flexibility embodies the promise that your database will allow you to do exactly what you need to do, how you want to do it. While proprietary databases have a financial incentive to limit to solutions you can integrate into your IT stack to only their offerings, open source databases have no such thing. This ensures that you have full control over your data and can use it in whatever ways best suit your mission.

Finally, performance ensures that your database is running. You need a database that is fast, that can handle large amounts of queries and operations and that can grow along with your agency. You shouldn’t feel like there’s a ceiling to what you can achieve. With Postgres and other open source databases, there isn’t.


Don’t miss out on the potential of a truly modern database

The insights shared here are only the tip of the iceberg. Both Wilson and Beaufort, with their years of experience in technology and government had much more to share, including:

  • In-depth discussions on security, compliance and certifications like FedRamp
  • An exploration of how open source databases work within tight agency budgets
  • Many more illuminating tales from the field

This is a full conversation you don’t want to miss!


Want to learn more about how government agencies can effectively leverage open source DBMS? Check out our eBook “7 Critical Success Factors for Moving to Open Source Databases (like Postgres).”

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