OSTP Issues New Guidance for Public Access to Federally Funded Research 

September 8, 2022

The Biden administration has issued a press release and memo providing guidance to federal agencies to make research freely available, without an embargo. These requirements are intended to take effect no later than the start of 2026 and also applies to data that are necessary to validate scientific findings reported in the publications.  This guidance builds upon the 2013 ‘Holdren memo’ which encouraged a 12-month embargo period, followed by open access. 

The 2022 document authored by Dr. Alondra Nelson, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Science and Society in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, titled ‘Enduring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research’ recommends the following: 

  1. Update federal agency public access policies no later than December 31, 2025, to make federally funded publications and data freely available to the public, without an embargo  
  1. Establish transparent procedures to ensure scientific integrity 
  1. Coordinate with OSTP to ensure equitable delivery  

The final section of the memo is titled ‘Taking Next Steps Together’ and many of the specifics will need to be worked out over the next several years. The new directive does not specify a particular publishing business model, such as journals that charge authors fees to make their articles freely available, a model that FABBS has expressed concerns about, which creates pay-to-publish open-access journals. The memo leaves room for creative ways to accomplish public access, for example, researchers who publish in subscription journals might be able to satisfy the rule by depositing the almost-final, peer-reviewed, and accepted version into a public depository or other agency-approved outlet.  

Along with the memo, OSTP published an analysis document – “Economic Landscape of Federal Public Access Policy.” The document argues that the benefits of immediate access to research “greatly outweigh” the costs and that eliminating the embargo period will spur further innovation in publishing business models that have matured since 2013.  

This assessment and the guidance have been met with skepticism from the publishing community, while open-access advocates were quick to celebrate the announcement. Both groups have acknowledged the importance of implementation to determine the ultimate impact of the policy changes. 

Many scientific societies are eager to think through the consequences of this guidance – both intended and unintended. While most societies have been working diligently to expand access to journal articles, many still struggle to cover the costs associated with the process of writing, reviewing, formatting, and disseminating articles. Currently, those costs are not only covered by subscription fees, but the revenue also supports key functions of scientific societies – diversity initiatives, travel stipends, supports for early career scholars, conferences, etc. The memo acknowledges this complexity, “in consultation with OMB, federal agencies should allow researchers to include reasonable publication costs and costs associated with submission, curation, management of data, and special handling instructions as allowable expenses in all research budgets.” However, this flexibility begs the question of if covering these new costs will come at the expense of already tight research dollars. 

FABBS has followed these federal discussions for many years, working to serve as a resource to our societies. In the summer of 2020, FABBS collaborated with our colleagues at the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP) and organized a webinar series on Access to Scientific Publications. A second series brought together experts on Data Standards for Behavioral and Brain Sciences. These discussions touched upon the challenges and opportunities of alternative publishing models and archiving data in appropriate digital archives for all data types.  

FABBS actively supports the concepts of open science and is actively engaged with the administration to communicate and address the complexity of advancing these goals with maintaining the rigor, inclusivity, and sustainability of the scientific infrastructure.