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Making Federal Research Results Available to All

Completion of department and agency public access plans means the public will have greater access to publications and data resulting from Federally-funded research.

Federal departments and agencies subject to the February 2013 OSTP Memorandum on Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research have completed their public access plans. The February 2013 Memorandum directed Federal departments and agencies with annual research and development expenditures of more than $100 million to develop plans for improving access to the scholarly publications and digital data that result from Federally-funded research. 

In recent weeks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed their public access plans and posted them on their open government web pages. As a result, 22 Federal departments and agencies accounting for more than 99 percent of U.S. Federal R&D expenditures now have public access plans in place. A consolidated listing can be found here.

Completion of department and agency public access plans marks a milestone in the Federal government’s efforts to increase access to the results of Federally-funded research. As agencies implement their policies, the public will be able to read, download, and analyze in digital form the hundreds of thousands of peer-reviewed scholarly publications that result each year from Federally-funded research. This includes articles reporting on the latest planetary explorations, computer science breakthroughs, physics discoveries, and cancer research. Articles will be available for free no later than 12 months after their date of publication. Already, more than 4.2 million articles have been made available via agency-sponsored systems.  

In addition, the public will have greater access to growing stores of digital data resulting from Federally funded research. These data include results of weather models, clinical trials, transportation studies, and seismic monitoring. They will be made available consistent with the need to protect privacy, national security, and other legitimate interests, and taking into account the costs and benefits of preservation and access. Researchers, business innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, students, and the general public will be able to use such data to address national and global challenges related to agriculture, energy, environmental protection, health, and national security.

Already, 17 agencies have implemented the requirement for scientists they employ and scientists they fund to ensure public access to publications resulting from all newly funded research. Three more agencies have begun phasing-in such requirements across their research portfolios. Fourteen agencies have implemented requirements for staff scientists and researchers they fund to develop data management plans that describe the data they will collect in new research studies and their plans for providing long-term preservation and access. Four additional agencies have begun phasing-in such requirements across their research portfolios.

This work would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of dozens of staff from Federal departments and agencies that fund R&D. All are to be commended for their efforts to-date and their continued work to implement public access.

With all that has been accomplished, it is important to remember that there is still more to be done to improve access to and effective utilization of the results of Federally-funded research. Departments and agencies continue to seek opportunities to collaborate and share good practices as they identify their next steps. To formalize this process and guide future efforts to improve access to the results of Federally-funded research, the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Science established an Interagency Working Group on Open Science (IWGOS) in October 2016. The IWGOS will build upon progress to-date and facilitate interagency coordination and cooperation on topics of common interest. It will also identify future objectives for agency open science policies and make recommendations for improving the preservation, discoverability, accessibility, and usability of digital data. 

These efforts promise to further increase the return on the Federal investment in research, accelerate scientific discovery, stimulate innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation, supporting the vision that was articulated in the OSTP Memorandum back in 2013.

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