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Federally Funded Research Results Are Becoming More Open and Accessible

Significant strides in improving public access to scholarly publications and digital data help usher in an era of open science.

This week marks the 8th annual Open Access Week, when individuals and organizations around the world celebrate the value of opening up online access to the results of scholarly research. It is an opportune time to highlight the considerable progress that Federal departments and agencies have made increasing public access to the results of Federally-supported scientific research and advancing the broader notion of open science.

This week, OSTP is announcing the public access plans of three more Federal departments and agencies—Department of Education (ED), Agency for International Development, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). These plans respond to the OSTP Memorandum on Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research and establishes objectives for departments and agencies to meet in improving access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications and digital data resulting from Federally-funded research. The completed plan from ED is now available online, and plans of the other two agencies should be published soon. 

These three plans bring the number of U.S. Federal departments and agencies with OSTP-approved public access plans to 19. Together, agencies with approved public access plans account for more than 98 percent of U.S. Federal expenditures on R&D. 

Agencies are moving quickly to implement their plans. Sixteen agencies now require researchers to ensure free public access to peer-reviewed publications resulting from all newly-funded research, with a delay of not more than 12 months after the publication date. All agencies have designated repositories and systems for opening up access to a large number of publications resulting from Federally-funded research:

  • PubMed Central, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) repository of life-sciences literature, now contains more than 4 million full-text articles and is used by more than 1.25 million people per day. NIH now provides access to a collection of 430,000 author manuscripts published since 2008, optimized for text-mining and freely available by file transfer protocol.
  • The National Science Foundation’s Public Access Repository, NSF-PAR, launched earlier this year, now provides access to almost 11,000 full-text research articles; it leverages technology from the Department of Energy’s Public Access Gateway for Energy & Science, which now provides access to more than 24,000 full-text research articles.
  • The Defense Technical Information Center launched a dedicated public-access system earlier this year that contains more than 2,000 articles resulting from research funded by the Department of Defense. It has also simplified access to more than 30,000 full-text journal articles housed in its extensive technical reports collection.
  • The Department of Agriculture has made 95,000 full-text journal articles available through its PubAg and TreeSearch systems.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has signed an interagency agreement with the National Library of Medicine to use PubMed Central as the designated repository for peer-reviewed scholarly publications.
  • CENDI, a group of Federal agencies that manage scientific and technical information, created a central source of authoritative information about agency public access plans and implementation and intends to enhance its existing system to facilitate search across the various Federal agency public-access systems.

Agencies are also making considerable progress to improve the management of and access to data resulting from Federally-funded research. Thirteen agencies now require that all new research projects have data management plans describing the data to be collected during the project and plans for its long-term preservation and access. Other agencies are beginning to implement such requirements, and all are developing tools to improve data management, discovery, and preservation. 

  • The Department of Transportation has released more than 800 transportation-related datasets, ranging from intelligent transportation systems to on-time performance statistics for airlines and connected them to research project descriptions and full-text reports in the USDOT Research Hub‎  to provide seamless public access.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs received 1,677 data management plans as part of new funding applications since its new requirements went into place in January 2016. The Department of Education received 63 data management plans for projects awarded in Fiscal Year 2015 and 2016.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey released the first version of its Data Release Workbench, a web-based application to provide funded scientists with access to data management and discovery tools and assistance in navigating through the stages of a data release.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s dataset identifier project has issued more than 587 digital object identifiers for datasets archived at the National Centers for Environmental Information, enabling the unambiguous citation of data used to support research results.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a new NASA-Funded Research Results portal in August to provide one-stop shopping for research articles and data resulting from NASA-funded research.

To help guide future efforts to improve access to the results of Federally-funded research, the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Science has just established a new Interagency Working Group on Open Science (IWGOS). The IWGOS will build upon progress to date and facilitate interagency coordination and cooperation on topics of common interest. It will also identify additional steps agencies can take to improve the preservation, discoverability, accessibility, and usability of the full range of outputs of, and data supporting, Federally-funded scientific research. In addition, the new interagency working group will identify opportunities for international communication and collaboration to advance open science. 

Open science has become a priority for many other countries and has featured prominently in recent high-level statements and communiques from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), G20, and G7.

At their meeting in Tsukuba, Japan last May, G7 Science and Technology Ministers agreed to establish an international working group on open science to identify good practices for improving access to scholarly publications and digital data that result from government-funded research and explore incentive structures that can reward scientists who practice open science. The first meeting of that G7 Open Science Working Group is scheduled to take place next month in Japan. Additionally, open science will be a core priority for the OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy over the next two years.

Together, these efforts to open up the results of Federally-funded research promise to increase the return of Federal investments in scientific research, bolster the reliability of that research, accelerate scientific discovery, stimulate innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation.  These are certainly accomplishments worth celebrating during Open Access Week—and ones that will have lasting effects long beyond.

Jerry Sheehan is Assistant Director for Scientific Data & Information at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.