White House issues public access policy for publications and data

Policy will apply to research funded by major federal science agencies.

On Feb. 22, the Obama administration, through the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), released a policy memorandum for “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research” (PDF, 53KB). This policy “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.”

The policy applies both to peer-reviewed publications and to research data in digital form. Each agency must submit a plan to OSTP within six months that contains the following elements (among others):

“a) a strategy for leveraging existing archives, where appropriate, and fostering public private partnerships with scientific journals relevant to the agency’s research;

b) a strategy for improving the public’s ability to locate and access digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research;

c) an approach for optimizing search, archival, and dissemination features that encourages innovation in accessibility and interoperability, while ensuring long-term stewardship of the results of federally funded research;

d) a plan for notifying awardees and other federally funded scientific researchers of their obligations (e.g., through guidance, conditions of awards, and/or regulatory changes);

e) an agency strategy for measuring and, as necessary, enforcing compliance with its plan.”

Regarding publications, the policy states that each agency’s plan should:

“Ensure that the public can read, download, and analyze in digital form final peer-reviewed manuscripts or final published documents within a timeframe that is appropriate for each type of research conducted or sponsored by the agency. Specifically, each agency:

i) 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, and

ii) shall also provide a mechanism for stakeholders to petition for changing the embargo period for a specific field by presenting evidence demonstrating that the plan would be inconsistent with the objectives articulated in this memorandum.”

For data, each agency’s plan should:

“a) Maximize access, by the general public and without charge, to digitally formatted scientific data created with Federal funds, while:

i) protecting confidentiality and personal privacy,

ii) recognizing proprietary interests, business confidential information, and intellectual property rights and avoiding significant negative impact on intellectual property rights, innovation, and U.S. competitiveness, and

iii) preserving the balance between the relative value of long-term preservation and access and the associated cost and administrative burden;

b) Ensure that all extramural researchers receiving Federal grants and contracts for scientific research and intramural researchers develop data management plans, as appropriate, describing how they will provide for long-term preservation of, and access to, scientific data in digital formats resulting from federally funded research, or explaining why long-term preservation and access cannot be justified;

c) Allow the inclusion of appropriate costs for data management and access in proposals for Federal funding for scientific research.”

In justifying the new policy, which has been under discussion for several years, the administration noted that:

“Policies that mobilize these publications and data for re-use through preservation and broader public access also maximize the impact and accountability of the Federal research investment. These policies will accelerate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) already has a public access policy for publications that satisfies many of the criteria of the new policy statement. The current NIH data sharing policy applies only to grants with direct costs of $500,000 or more in any one year.

The National Science Foundation announced that it would develop a policy in accord with the new White House directive. It is expected that other federal agencies that fund significant amounts of scientific research will also release policies, including units within the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy and Veterans Affairs.

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