On August 25th, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued updated policy guidance making the results of U.S. taxpayer-funded research immediately and freely available to the public. For the first time, everyone – from scientists to students, physicians to entrepreneurs – will be able to access articles reporting on the more than $80 billion in scientific research that American taxpayers fund each year without delay.
In a memorandum on “Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research,” Dr. Alondra Nelson, the head of OSTP, released guidance to federal agencies to update their public access policies to make all research publications, along with the data needed to validate their conclusions, immediately available to the public, no later than December 31, 2025.
This historic step is the result of nearly two decades of steady policy progress towards making “open” the default mode for sharing research outputs in the U.S. What began as a request from a single agency (the National Institutes of Health) to researchers to voluntarily make their articles publicly available in 2005, advanced year after year, consistently growing in scope and coverage. Each step – from the 2008 Congressional mandate to NIH to make their voluntary policy mandatory, to the expansion of that mandate to all federal science agencies through the Obama Administration’s Holdren Memorandum in 2013 – reflected the growing will of the research community to embrace digital communication channels in order to more quickly and widely share the results of their work, and to build on the work of others.
In the nine years since the release of the Holdren Memorandum, the White House OSTP has regularly solicited community input, issuing numerous Requests for Information (RFIs) through the Federal Register, and holding scores of meetings with individual organizations, businesses, and coalition groups. SPARC, our member libraries and our coalition partners were pleased to actively engage in these consultations, and are grateful for the care that multiple administrations (both Democratic and Republican) have taken over the years to carefully consider community input.
The new Nelson Memorandum is notable for its focus on ensuring that U.S. federal agency policies are updated to ensure equity in both the publishing of and access to the record of science – particularly for traditionally underserved communities, and researchers who are early in their careers. It also underscores the critical role that openness plays in ensuring scientific research integrity, providing important new guidance for the use of digital personal identifiers and robust metadata accompanying articles and datasets.
This policy update builds on the lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis, when paywalls were lifted for coronavirus articles, enabling scientists and doctors to access the latest research without delay and leading to the fastest development of a vaccine in history. It will help speed solutions for global challenges from climate justice to cancer research, and yield significant benefits to the public around the world.
Implementing this policy will be the next challenge, and SPARC, our members, and coalition partners stand ready to roll up our sleeves and help with this collective endeavor. To facilitate implementation, and to help the community better understand potential economic impacts of these policy changes, OSTP has also issued a report on the Economic Landscape of Federal Public Access Policy, which was published on the same day that the new memorandum went live. OSTP and the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Open Science, which is tasked with coordinating agency implementation of this policy guidance, have committed to working together with all interested parties including researchers, publishers, academic institutions, libraries, and other members of the public.
It is entirely fitting that this momentous policy change comes this year, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the BOAI which helped catalyze a moment into a global movement. SPARC is proud to be an original signatory of the BOAI, and to have played a role in helping to keep progress towards open access steadily moving forward. Today, we express our heartfelt thanks to the Biden Administration and OSTP, as well as to all SPARC members and the librarians, students, researchers, and advocates from a huge range of communities for enabling this giant step towards realizing our collective goal of ensuring that sharing knowledge is a human right – for everyone.