In the last week two federal agencies, the National Aeronautics and Atmospheric Administration (NASA) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), released their open access policy plans (H/T OA Tracking Project, techdirt and SPARC). They follow the Department of Energy, which announced its plans last August.
AHRQ and NASA plans both rely on the PubMed Central database for depositing publications that come from research the agencies fund. PubMed Central is the repository used for compliance with the National Institutes of Health’s Public Access Policy. (It is not the same system that underlies the new Department of Energy system.) Each agency would expect the research publications to be available on PubMed Central within 12 months of publication.
But the new open access effort of the Obama Administration addresses both research publications and research data. PubMed Central is not set up as a digital data repository, and most of the effort to set up new systems has been focused on research publications. The AHRQ policy departs from this by including digital data. The policy does not establish an AHRQ repository, but would require the agency to contract with a repository for address storage of research data covered by the policy. Grantees would have to submit a data management plan (increasingly a requirement of federal research grants), and work with agency personnel to address the matter.
The NASA policy on digital data does not involve a digital repository of its own – at least at the moment. It will instead serve as a central point of information for accessing digital data stored elsewhere. Grantees would outline their digital data access strategy in a data management plan. The agency will make a registry available with metadata and access instructions for datasets generated by its funded research. NASA indicates in its plan that it will consider developing a research data commons (in consultation with other Federal agencies), but gives no timetable for that decision.
It is worth noting that NASA went so far as to commission an independent assessment of PubMed Central, the Energy Department’s PAGES system, and the publisher-encouraged CHORUS system before making its decision on how to handle research publications. That suggests to me how seriously the agency is approaching the matter of open access to scientific information. That NASA recognizes the infrastructure investment that is involved in complying with this policy, and that it wants to make a wise investment. I do hope other agencies are following suit.