Every year, Washington pours tens of billions of dollars into scientific research projects (like the brain activity mapping project). These are projects you help pay for with taxes. These government-funded investigations give rise to roughly 65,000 peer-reviewed papers a year. Weirdly, a bunch of these remain inaccessible to you, unless you hold a subscription to the journal in which they're published, and some of these journals are pretty expensive.
Today, that all changes in a big way. The US government has announced that publications from all taxpayer-funded research should be made free to read within a year of publication (a policy previously reserved for publicly funded biomedical research).
The policy applies to all federal agencies that spend more than $100 million on research and development, and is likely to double the number of articles made public each year. The US National Institutes of Health has since 2008 required research to be publicly accessible after 12 months. "This new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, [but] it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government," [John Holdren, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)] wrote today in a separate response to a petition that had been launched in May 2012, urging the president to require free access to scientific journal articles from publicly-funded research. (That has gathered some 64,000 signatures.)
The policy has been a long time in preparation, both at the OSTP and at federal agencies. The OSTP had already asked for public views on the subject twice, in 2009 and again in 2011. It had been charged with improving public access to research under a re-authorization of the America COMPETES Act, in December 2010. Meanwhile, both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) have been talking to researchers and publishers over the last 18 months about new public access and data management policies, says Fred Dylla, the executive director of the American Institute of Physics, a publisher based in College Park, Maryland.