OSTP Issues Directive to Federal Agencies on Public Access

Share This

Publication date: 
1 March 2013

“The Administration is committed to ensuring that, to the greatest extent and with the fewest constraints possible and consistent with law and the objectives set out below, the direct results of federally funded scientific research are made available to and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community. Such results include peer-reviewed publications and digital data.” –
OSTP Director John Holdren

On February 22, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren issued a six-page policy memorandum to the heads of federal executive departments and agencies describing the Obama Administration’s policy “to increase access to federally funded published research and digital scientific data.” Agencies have six months to submit a draft plan to OSTP for review.

This memorandum is the latest development in a series of actions regarding public access. Congress has been involved on a number of fronts, including several hearings, a request that resulted in the convening of a Scholarly Publishing Roundtable that published a report in January 2010, and several bills. The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 contained a provision regarding public access. In late 2011, OSTP issued a “Request for Information: Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications Resulting from Federally Funded Research” in the Federal Register. In fulfillment of the public access provision in the COMPETES legislation the National Science and Technology Council of the Executive Office of the President sent a 44-page report to Congress last spring. This report explained that two groups had been convened for “evaluating objectives for increasing access to and improving the management of the results of federally funded scientific research.”

Approximately 30,000 individuals are employed in the $3 billion scholarly journal publishing enterprise in the United States. The American Institute of Physics and now the recently formed AIP Publishing LLC publish scholarly journals in the physical and related sciences. Interest in public access has attracted considerable interest beyond publishers, Congress, and the Obama Administration. More than 65,000 people signed a petition urging “President Obama to act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.”

The National Science and Technology Council and public consultation provided input to the February 22 OSTP memorandum entitled “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research.” It starts with a one-page description of “Policy Principles” that includes the paragraph found at the top of this issue, two paragraphs about the importance of scientific research to the nation’s economy, and recognition of the importance of the publishing industry:

“The Administration also recognizes that publishers provide valuable services, including the coordination of peer review, that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications. It is critical that these services continue to be made available. It is also important that Federal policy not adversely affect opportunities for researchers who are not funded by the Federal Government to disseminate any analysis or results of their research.”

This section concludes:

“To achieve the Administration’s commitment to increase access to federally funded published research and digital scientific data, Federal agencies investing in research and development must have clear and coordinated policies for increasing such access.”

The memorandum’s next section is entitled “Agency Public Access Plan.” It states:

“The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hereby directs each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government. This includes any results published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications that are based on research that directly arises from Federal funds. . . . It is preferred that agencies work together, where appropriate, to develop these plans.”

Eight elements are required in these agency plans that are to be submitted in draft form to OSTP that will review them “in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget” for their compatibility with the OSTP memorandum. Final agency plans are to be developed using a “transparent process” that will solicit views from all stakeholders.

The memorandum proceeds with a page and one-half section entitled “Objectives for Public Access to Scientific Publications.” “The results of unclassified research that are published in peer-reviewed publications directly arising from Federal funding should be stored for long-term preservation and publicly accessible to search, retrieve, and analyze in ways that maximize the impact and accountability of the Federal research investment,” the memorandum explains. Of note, the agency plan “shall use a twelve-month post-publication embargo period as a guideline for making research papers publicly available; however, an agency may tailor its plan as necessary to address the objectives articulated in this memorandum, as well as the challenges and public interests that are unique to each field and mission combination.” Metadata is to be available upon first publication at no charge. There is also language on public-private collaboration and archival solutions.

The memorandum’s next section pertains to “Objectives for Public Access to Scientific Data in Digital Formats.” Data is defined as “the digital recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings including data sets used to support scholarly publications.” Of note is the directive to agency heads to “maximize access, by the general public and without charge, to digitally formatted scientific data created with Federal funds.” There are, in all, ten elements that agency data plans must comply with.

The memorandum concludes with a section on the Implementation of Public Access Plans and two paragraphs of General Provisions.

The next and very important step in this process is the development of agency plans. The National Science Foundation issued a release with comments from foundation Director Subra Suresh, the National Science Board, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the Department of Agriculture, NASA, and the Department of Commerce. The release explains:

“With the breadth of NSF and other federal support across the scientific community, the implementation details for public access could vary by discipline, and new business models for universities, libraries, publishers, and scholarly and professional societies could emerge. Those details will emerge as NSF consults with its stakeholders and with other government agencies, and as it develops its plans. NSF has already laid out a tentative timeline for consultation, planning, systems development, and changes to its policies, which will be fine-tuned over the coming months.”

Explore FYI topics: