The US Federal Government is one of the world's largest buyers of software, much of which is custom developed by government contractors in response to RfP's and sole source procurements. Not only is the original development of this software expensive, but the Government must often negotiate follow-on sole source contracts with the same vendor for support and enhancement. Beyond that, many of these contractors are incapable of building complex systems. The initial healthcare.gov fiasco is a recent example of such failure, but it is just one among numerous notable project failures and delays, including systems for the FBI, the FAA, the Social Security Administration, and various DoD projects. Elsewhere, there's a lot of expensive, low-quality code out there, hidden from public view, but on which we are all dependent on a daily basis.
People in the Obama Administration have been aware of this problem, and of the merits of open source software, even before Pres. Obama formally took office. On Day 1 of the Obama Administration, the proprietary CMS system used for the Bush Administration's version of whitehouse.gov was gone, replaced by a new version of the site powered by Drupal. A couple of years later, in early 2011, I went to a meeting organized by the Dept. of State (tech@state) at which they reviewed open source adoption and use across various government departments. It was evident that there were champions for open source throughout the government. That, combined with the Obama Administration's 2009 directive on open government, served as impetus for increased use of open source software throughout the government.
More recently, we have seen the United States Digital Service emerge from the effort to fix healthcare.gov, and 18F appear in the General Services Administration to deliver digital government solutions using modern software development practices. The Dept. of Education's highly popular College Scorecard site was one of their first projects.
Today's publication of a draft Source Code Policy by US CIO Tony Scott is the next logical step in the process, and places the use of open source software and the release of acquired code in a central position for all government software acquisitions that include custom-developed code. There are many issues to be addressed and resolved, so I encourage everyone to read the policy and comment upon it. Note that the discussion itself is open and hosted on GitHub.