Today the Executive Order regarding a new Open Data Policy was released by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget. Basicaly it states that "all newly generated government data will be required to be made available in open, machine-readable formats, greatly enhancing their accessibility and usefulness, while ensuring privacy and security." This Executive Order and accompanying policies aim to build public reporting systems, revamp goals, and create new means for public participation while specifying principles for openness.
The Federal Government has been taking steps to make government data more available. In 2009 Data.gov was launched allowing users to access thousands of government datasets. The Digital Government Strategy, the Health Data Initiative, and Open Data Initiative (in health, energy, education, public safety, finance, and global development) are further examples of how agencies have been unlocking government data.
Furthermore, the US Chief Information Officer and the US Chief Technology Officer are releasing open source tools on Github (where communities of developers can work collaboratively). Better known as Project Open Data, this effect accelerates the adoption of open data practices by providing tools and best practices to help agencies improve the management and release of open data. For example, one tool released today automatically converts simple spreadsheets and databases into APIs for easier consumption by developers.
However, there still remain datasets that are not only hard to find but are also locked-up in unusable formats. (Remember floppy disks?) This new Executive Order and Policy signed today, May 9th, requires that government agencies provide newly generated government data in machine-readable formats (like CSV, XML, and JSON and even Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) when appropraite).