Federally Funded Research to be Free and Publicly Accessible Under New White House Guidance

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A memo issued by the acting director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy requests federal agencies update and implement their public access policies by the end of 2025.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directed federal agencies on Thursday to begin adopting policies that would make taxpayer-funded research free and accessible to the general public. 

In a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies, Dr. Alondra Nelson, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director for science and society performing the duties of director at OSTP, instructed officials to implement 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.” OSTP will also work with federal agencies to update their public access policies and data sharing plans by mid-2023.

“When research is widely available to other researchers and the public, it can save lives, provide policymakers with the tools to make critical decisions and drive more equitable outcomes across every sector of society,” Nelson said in a statement. “The American people fund tens of billions of dollars of cutting-edge research annually. There should be no delay or barrier between the American public and the returns on their investments in research.” 

Under the Obama administration, OSTP issued a memo in 2013 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.” That guidance, however, allowed covered federal agencies to impose up to a year-long embargo on public access to federally funded research. 

OSTP’s new public access policy rolls back the optional 12-month embargo, which the memo said “has limited immediate access of federally funded research results to only those able to pay for it or who have privileged access through libraries or other institutions.” And it also extends the policy guidance to agencies that spend less than $100 million annually on research and development. 

The White House, which said OSTP’s latest public access policy was developed with input “from multiple federal agencies over the course of this year,” highlighted the impact that the new guidance could have on the scientific and research communities. 

“This policy will likely yield significant benefits on a number of key priorities for the American people, from environmental justice to cancer breakthroughs, and from game-changing clean energy technologies to protecting civil liberties in an automated world,” according to a White House press release.

In a February 2022 letter to Nelson, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., requested that OSTP develop an open access policy for taxpayer-funded research “to truly meet the magnitude of the research and innovation needs of today’s fast-paced, globalized world.”

In a statement following OSTP’s announcement, Wyden called the guidance “an astronomical win for innovation and scientific progress.”

“Unlocking federally funded research from expensive, exclusive journals will give far more scientists and researchers access to the latest discoveries and catalyze scientific development,” Wyden said. “Our country needs to harness every bit of research at our disposal to meet the challenges on everything from the Cancer Moonshot to addressing climate change.”