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Federal Open-Access Mandate

Publishing: White House directs agencies to provide free access to results of taxpayer-funded research

by Britt E. Erickson
February 28, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 9

Open-Access Policy At A Glance

◾ Number of agencies affected: About 19a

◾ Research results covered: Peer-reviewed publications and digital data

◾ Guideline for making material freely available: Within 12 months of publication

NOTE: Agencies have six months to develop a draft plan. a Policy covers all federal agencies that fund $100 million or more in scientific research.

All federal agencies that fund $100 million or more in scientific research must develop plans to make the results of that research freely available, according to a new directive from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). The agencies have flexibility in how they develop their plans and can work with publishers on criteria that differ from discipline to discipline, using a 12-month post-publication embargo as a guideline.

Open-access advocates are applauding the move, which came just days after Congress introduced legislation that also aims to broaden access to taxpayer-funded research. Publishers, which have long opposed open-access efforts, also support the measure because it is not a one-size-fits-all policy.

The directive applies to agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy Office of Science. Currently the National Institutes of Health is the only federal agency with an open-access policy, but that applies only to peer-reviewed publications. The directive goes beyond publications and also applies to digital data. Federal agencies have six months to draft individual plans to cover all research results.

“Scientific research supported by the federal government catalyzes innovative breakthroughs that drive our economy,” OSTP Director John P. Holdren wrote in a Feb. 22 memo to the heads of federal agencies affected by the directive.

OSTP is encouraging federal agencies to work together and with the private sector in developing their open-access plans. NSF signaled its desire to do so. “Full public access will require changes in policies, procedures, and practices from the many stakeholders who participate in NSF’s broad research portfolio spanning all scientific and engineering disciplines,” NSF Director Subra Suresh says. “We stand with our federal science colleagues, as well as our nongovernmental partners, to collaborate in accomplishing this transition on behalf of science and our nation’s future.”

Publishers voiced their support for the directive because it gives agencies flexibility and recognizes that publishers provide valuable services. But they also cautioned that it is too early to tell what effect the mandate will have on them. Success of the policy “depends on how the agencies use their flexibility to avoid negative impacts to the successful system of scholarly communication,” says Tom Allen, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers.



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