Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research

Know before you sign! Your sponsor-funded research results may be subject to public access regulations.  To avoid miscommunication and potential breach of contract, inform your publisher that a manuscript is subject to sponsor public access policies before the publisher decides to review it.


Why Public aka Open Access?

An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge. 

~ Budapest Open Access Initiative Declaration 1

The Regulations

In February 2013, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Dr. John Holdren, issued a memorandum, Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research, directing Executive Departments and Agencies with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop plans to support increased public access to the unclassified results of federally funded research published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications, metadata, and digital scientific data. 2

Agencies were directed to draft public access plans within six months of publication of the OSTP memorandum, but given latitude for setting their timetables for implementation, as well as for determining the most suitable approach for meeting the objectives and goals outlined in the memorandum, among which are to, ” . . . [improve] the public’s ability to locate and access [publications and] digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research;” and to, “. . . [optimize] search, archival, and dissemination features that encourage[s] innovation in accessibility and interoperability, while ensuring long-term stewardship of the results of federally funded research.” 3

Impact of Increased Public Access Requirements on Investigators

While agencies continue to finalize and implement their respective public access plans, investigators will want to pay close attention to funding announcements, proposal guidelines, award terms and conditions, and other sponsor-related communications for details regarding what requirements concerning public access apply to a particular award.  Investigators also can consult the US Agency Public Access Plans webpage which provides an up-to-date list of, and links to U.S. agency plans as they are published.  Investigators need to pay attention to the terms and conditions of awards from private sponsors, as well.  The American Heart Association, and the Bill and Melinda Gates, Ford, and Hewlett Foundations are but several private organizations with open access policies.  Columbia University’s website, Public Access Mandates for Federally Funded Research: Implementation Plans, gives an overview of both U.S. agency and private sponsors’ public access policies.

Investigators must distinguish between public access requirements as they relate to peer-reviewed publications, metadata, and digital scientific data.  Just as the effective dates of agencies’ plans vary, so too do the solutions for how, when, and where each type of research result is deposited, stored, and made publicly available.  For publications, agencies may require investigators utilize sponsor-specific repositories such as PubMed Central at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or PubAg at the Department of Agriculture, or a shared repository as in the case of the National Science Foundation (NSF) which utilizes the Departments of Energy’s DOE PAGES.  Alternately, investigators may be asked to identify and select for themselves an appropriate repository.  In these instances, investigators may consider the University of Maine’s free, open access document repository, Digital Commons, along with fee-based document repositories such as the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS), and Creative Commons (CC-BY 4.0).  In regards to data, agencies currently require investigators self-select a repository for preserving and providing access to their digital data, which the investigator identifies at time of proposal in his/her data management plan.   The Maine Dataverse Network, operated by the Advanced Computing Group at the University of Maine, is a fee-based option for archiving and sharing not only digital data, but also metadata.

With few exceptions, investigators must make research papers available to the public within twelve months of publication, and metadata available at time of publication.  For digital data, agency requirements range from within 30 months, to within ‘a reasonable time’ of publication.  “In no instances will an agency’s public access requirements apply to manuscripts submitted for publication, or to digital data generated prior to a plan’s effective date, and the effective dates can be no sooner than the publication date of the agency’s final plan.” 4

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1 Accessed 7/1/2015.

2 “Data is defined, consistent with OMB circular A-110, as the digital recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings including data sets used to support scholarly publications, but does not include laboratory notebooks, preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers, plans for future research, peer review reports, communications with colleagues, or physical objects, such as laboratory specimens.” Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research, pp. 5.

3  Ibid, pp. 2.

4  Ibid. pp. 6.

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