A U.S. State Department employee recently asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at an employee forum about using Firefox at the work.  It seems Mozilla Firefox, the popular open source web browser, is prohibited at the State Department.  You can see a transcript of the questions and answer(s) here and a video here (watch at 26:30).

The employee that asked the question had previously worked at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a part of the U.S. intelligence community.  He states that Firefox is approved for use within the intelligence community, which includes the CIA and NSA.

Clinton looks astonished by the question and the vocal support for Firefox, though she clearly doesn’t know what Firefox is.  She refers the question to an undersecretary, who says that the problem is the cost of rolling out Firefox across all their networks (likely including embassies worldwide).  He likely knows what Firefox is, but his reasoning lacks (although it sounds they have thought about rolling out Firefox at some previous time).

It is my hope that they talk to people familiar with Firefox when looking to deploy this secure browser.

The text of the exchange:

MS. GREENBERG: Okay. Our next question comes from Jim Finkle:

Can you please let the staff use an alternative web browser called Firefox? I just – (applause) – I just moved to the State Department from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and was surprised that State doesn’t use this browser. It was approved for the entire intelligence community, so I don’t understand why State can’t use it. It’s a much safer program. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, apparently, there’s a lot of support for this suggestion. (Laughter.) I don’t know the answer. Pat, do you know the answer? (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The answer is at the moment, it’s an expense question. We can —

QUESTION: It’s free. (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Nothing is free. (Laughter.) It’s a question of the resources to manage multiple systems. It is something we’re looking at. And thanks to the Secretary, there is a significant increase in the 2010 budget request that’s pending for what is called the Capital Investment Fund, by which we fund our information technology operations. With the Secretary’s continuing pushing, we’re hoping to get that increase in the Capital Investment Fund. And with those additional resources, we will be able to add multiple programs to it.

Yes, you’re correct; it’s free, but it has to be administered, the patches have to be loaded. It may seem small, but when you’re running a worldwide operation and trying to push, as the Secretary rightly said, out FOBs and other devices, you’re caught in the terrible bind of triage of trying to get the most out that you can, but knowing you can’t do everything at once.

SECRETARY CLINTON: So we will try to move toward that. When the White House was putting together the stimulus package, we were able to get money that would be spent in the United States, which was the priority, for IT and upgrading our system and expanding its reach. And this is a very high priority for me, and we will continue to push the envelope on it. I mean, Pat is right that everything does come with some cost, but we will be looking to try to see if we can extend it as quickly as possible.

It raises another issue with me. If we’re spending money on things that are not productive and useful, let us know, because there are tens of thousands of people who are using systems and office supplies and all the rest of it. The more money we can save on stuff that is not cutting edge, the more resources we’ll have to shift to do things that will give us more tools. I mean, it sounds simplistic, but one of the most common suggestions on the sounding board was having better systems to utilize supplies, paper supplies – I mean, office supplies – and be more conscious of their purchasing and their using.

And it reminded me of what I occasionally sometimes do, which I call shopping in my closet, which means opening doors and seeing what I actually already have, which I really suggest to everybody, because it’s quite enlightening. (Laughter.) And so when you go to the store and you buy, let’s say, peanut butter and you don’t realize you’ve got two jars already at the back of the shelf – I mean, that sounds simplistic, but help us save money on stuff that we shouldn’t be wasting money on, and give us the chance to manage our resources to do more things like Firefox, okay?

H/t Mozilla Links and Robert O’Callahan (I also want a Firefox shirt that says ‘Approved for the intelligence community’).