Signifying that the executive branch review of open access policies is rapidly approaching a middle, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a memo for agency and department heads on “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research.” This is the biggest step in a process that dates back at least three years, when the Obama Administration put forth a public comment period on the matter. This was followed by two requests for comment and an open access report. The petition submitted to We the People, which passed the response threshold (then set at 25,000 signatures) in early June, finally got its response yesterday – not quite nine months later.
For a Friday afternoon release, the action has gotten more attention that one might expect, with Washington Post articles up hours prior to today’s paper hitting the streets. Jack Andraka, the 2012 Intel Science Fair first place winner quoted in the piece, was part of the Administration’s State of STEM presentation last week, and will likely be part of the open access conversation moving forward.
Independent researchers like Andraka will benefit from the proposed policies, which reflect the open access legislation that has rattled around Congress since at least 2007. The memo focuses on agencies and departments with annual research and development budgets in excess of $100 million. The results of research (and the associated metadata) funded with federal dollars must be made available free of charge within twelve months of publication. This is consistent with the current timeframe for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy, but a longer period than what is proposed in the current open access legislation (six months). The memo notes that agencies and stakeholders may adjust the twelve month embargo to better fit the needs of the relevant research fields. Classified research is exempted from this policy.
While many open access advocates are happy to see executive branch action, some are disappointed. Or perhaps they are simply frustrated. From The Washington Post:
“It’s lame,” said Michael Eisen, a University of California, Berkeley, biologist and a vocal proponent of immediate free access to research papers. “It’s a major sellout to publishers.”
In the same Washington Post article, it was reported that the American Association of Publishers considers the plan in this memo fair, while it is opposed to this year’s open access bills. (It also supported the anti-open access bills that have floated around Congress in prior years.)
Moving forward, agencies have six months to submit draft plans to OSTP. Final plans will be released after review by OSTP and the Office of Management and Budget. Given the dismal track record of OSTP in complying with deadlines, and the fact that this process has been in the works for three years so far, I suspect development and implementation of these policies may take longer than the Administration has left in office.
I recognize that it takes time to establish persistent, reliable digital repositories and standards for capturing, storing and displaying research results. But many universities and at least one Federal agency have spent considerable resources on this problem. If the OSTP was willing to commit to this effort, it could really make an impact. Given how it hasn’t followed through on scientific intergrity recommendations, I just don’t think it will be a government leader on open access. Thankfully, it appears that the National Science Foundation and other agencies subject to this memo are willing to take the lead. And the NIH can simply shake its head at how long it took its fellow agencies to get with it.
(NB: Since I work for an organization that is also an academic publisher, I should note its policies on access to publications. As with everything else on this blog, my comments are my own, and are not representations of my employer or on my employer’s behalf.)