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Open access directive for federally-funded research

The Obama administration has directed federal agencies with more than $100 million in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of the research that they fund freely available within one year of publication.

The mandate applies to any results published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications that are based on studies directly arising from federal funds.

The policy memorandum, issued by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director John Holdren on 22 February, specifies that each agency plan should include a strategy for improving the public’s ability to locate and access digital data resulting from federally funded research, as well as a scheme for measuring and enforcing compliance with its plan.

Agencies will also have to identify resources within their existing budgets that can be used to implement the plan.

In addition, the policy memo requires researchers to better account for and manage digital data resulting from federally funded studies.

“The Administration is committed to ensuring that, to the greatest extent and with the fewest constraints possible … the direct results of federally funded scientific research are made available to and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community,” Holdren wrote.

Agencies must submit their draft plan to OSTP by the end of August, and that office will work with the White House Office of Management and Budget to review the documents and provide guidance to facilitate the development of final plans.

In his memo, Holdren recognises that publishers provide “valuable services”, including the coordination of peer review, that are essential for ensuring the quality and integrity of many scholarly publications. It is critical that these services continue to be made available, he noted.

In addition, Holdren said it is important that federal policy does not adversely affect opportunities for researchers who are not funded by the federal government to disseminate analysis or results of their research.

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an international alliance of academic and research libraries, applauded the “landmark directive”. The group’s executive director, Heather Joseph, described the policy memo’s release “a watershed moment”. The potential economic benefits of opening up access to such research are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, according to SPARC.

The Association of American Publishers expressed support for the policy, while offering a warning.

“In stark contrast to angry rhetoric and unreasonable legislation offered by some, the OSTP takes a fair path that would enhance access for the public, acknowledge differences among agencies and scientific disciplines and recognize the critical role publishers play in vetting, producing, establishing and preserving the integrity of scientific works,” said AAP’s president and CEO, Tom Allen.

However, he cautioned that the key to the success of the policy will depend on how the agencies use their flexibility to avoid negative impacts to the current system of scholarly communication that advances science, technology and innovation.