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White House mandates immediate open access by 2026

All US-funded research papers and data must be available immediately upon publication

by Andrea Widener
August 29, 2022

Alondra Nelson.
Credit: Chris Kleponis/CNP/SplashNews/Newscom
The memo outlining the new open access requirements for research funded by the US government was signed by acting OSTP director Alondra Nelson.

All US federally-funded research papers and data must be freely available to the public immediately upon publication, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced Aug. 25. The policy goes into effect as soon as possible, or at the latest, Dec. 31, 2025.

Open access advocates were thrilled with the announcement, which applies to research publications and any supporting data, as well as metadata about researchers and their funding.

“I think this will really help not only promote accessibility to research results, but also improve the quality of science and the public’s trust in science,” says Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an organization of libraries and academic institutions that pushes for open access.

The OSTP started the path to require open access to US-funded research papers in 2013, but it allowed for publications to be behind a paywall for 12 months. It also made an exception for agencies that fund less than $100 million in research.

The new guidance, outlined in a memo signed by acting OSTP director Alondra Nelson, for funding agencies requires immediate access with no exceptions for smaller agencies. It does give agencies that have not previously mandated open access extra time to implement the policy.

The new OSTP requirements will undoubtedly have a large impact on academic publishing, including both for-profit and society publishers.

“The announcement from OSTP represents a significant change in policy direction,” James Milne, president of American Chemical Society Publications, says in an email response to questions from C&EN. “As such, we are evaluating the details of the guidance and accompanying economic analysis to determine the potential impact on both our publishing activities and on US researchers directly.” (ACS publishes C&EN.)

Publishers have long been concerned about how open access will affect their ability to pay for publishing operations when they can no longer put papers behind a subscription firewall, especially after many European funders joined an open access plan. In recent years, many have responded by creating more open access journals, which are funded instead by researcher-paid fees, called article processing charges (APCs).

Many academics are worried about who will pay for immediate access under the new policy, including University of California, Santa Barbara, chemical engineering professor Matthew E. Helgeson. He is concerned that the burden of implementing this policy will fall on principal investigators. “We have a lot of these sorts of mandates that are made at high level without proper resources and policy considerations,” and fall on the PI to figure out, he says. “It becomes a burden on our network and resources.”

The OSTP memo does not specify that researchers publish in open access journals—just that the research be included in “agency-designated repositories without any embargo or delay after publication.” Though it remains to be seen whether journals will allow this for papers published under subscription access.

Milne points out that “ACS Publications will deposit the final published article into a designated repository for authors who publish under an open access license. If authors identify a funder preference, ACS will deposit into that repository on their behalf.”

In addition to the research publication itself, the OSTP is requiring any underlying scientific data to be made freely available at the same time.

Helgeson says that requiring data to be open is a good idea. “I think, in the long run, it only makes science more open when it’s easy to see the actual original data that analyses are being made from,” he says. It also gives labs like his, that produce a lot of data, motivation to build infrastructure to meet any new data storage requirements. He hopes that funding agencies will interpret the rules the same way. “It’s good to have unified standards,” Helgeson says.

SPARC’s Joseph is particularly happy to see that the OSTP included requirements that certain types of metadata—including digitally persistent identifiers for individuals—be part of any publication. That should make it easier for people to quickly see information like who worked on a publication and who funded it, Joseph says. “It’s just a lot of a black box right now, so this really is a big advance forward.”

But like all policy, the real details will be clear once it is implemented by agencies. The memo says the National Science and Technology Council, which brings together agencies to work on policy problems, will help coordinate across agencies to reduce redundancy.

One of their charges is to minimize inequality, especially for early career scientists and those from underserved backgrounds. Another is to reduce the burden of researchers who have to comply with the requirements. For large agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, a first draft of the plans are due in to OSTP within 180 days. Smaller agencies have 360 days to comply.



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