Lawmakers Question How Public Access to Federal Research Will be Achieved
House Science Committee leaders expressed concern about a lack of detailed guidance in the White House’s August memo that directs federal agencies to make their taxpayer-funded research publicly accessible by the end of 2025.
The top Democrat and top Republican on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee sent a letter on Monday to newly confirmed White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar asking for details about the implementation of new guidance that directs federal agencies to make federally-funded research publicly accessible.
OSTP sent a memo on Aug. 25 to the heads of executive departments and agencies that asked officials to “update their public access policies” by December 31, 2025, “in order to make publications and their supporting data resulting from federally funded research publicly accessible without an embargo on their free and public release.”
The memo was issued by Dr. Alondra Nelson, who had served as acting OSTP director since February. Prabhakar was confirmed as OSTP director by the Senate in September, and Nelson has since returned to her role as OSTP deputy director for science and society.
Before the latest guidance was issued, federal public access policy was guided by a 2013 OSTP memo that directed federal agencies “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 August memo now requires that all federal agencies with research programs—regardless of their annual expenditures—publicly release their findings, and also eliminates the optional 12-month embargo that federal agencies were able to impose on open access to taxpayer-funded research.
In the letter, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Ranking Member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said they supported the memo’s goal of “improving access to taxpayer-funded research and greater transparency of research data,” but expressed concern “about the details of how policies will be developed and implemented to maximize their intended value and avoid unintended consequences.”
Johnson and Lucas said that, if implemented properly, the new policy would “further the goal of enabling transformative scientific discovery across disciplines.” But they noted that OSTP’s memo lacks implementation guidance, “including how agencies will update their own policies and collaborate with stakeholders to ensure smooth implementation and address new challenges with who can afford to submit their research for publication, or how to ensure the quality of research publications.”
The letter also expressed some unease “about the lack of detail with respect to the requirements for digital data,” noting that data accessibility is often “a more difficult technical, cultural and economic challenge than making publications available.”
“It is the responsibility of the federal government not just to ensure that taxpayer-funded research is made publicly available (with appropriate protections for privacy and confidentiality), but that it is done in a way that avoids unintended consequences and maximizes the scientific benefits,” the letter said.
The lawmakers asked OSTP to provide them with further information about its plans to “work with agencies, publishers, universities of all sizes, scientific societies and other relevant stakeholders” to, in part, “ensure coordination and consistency in policies” and “ensure continued equity in access for researchers seeking to submit their research results for publication.” The letter also asked for additional details about how OSTP plans to address the data requirements of the new federal public access policy, including the steps it plans to take to enable implementation in a way “that minimizes burden on researchers and maximizes the cross-disciplinary scientific value of data repositories.”
The letter asked for responses from OSTP no later than Oct. 31.
Additionally, Johnson and Lucas urged OSTP “to initiate a second round of stakeholder engagement and conduct public workshops with the range of affected stakeholders in order to address these critical implementation issues in the next few months.”
“The memorandum directs federal science agencies with over $100 million in spending to send their implementation plans back to OSTP in less than five months,” the letter noted. “A robust dialogue in advance of that deadline would be advantageous to all parties.”