On August 25, 2022, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum providing federal agencies with guidance on updating their public access to publications and data policies. A previous memo issued in 2013 by then OSTP director John Holdren (“Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research”) created the government’s current public access policy and structure.
The new memo, known as the Nelson Memo after the OSTP’s previous acting director Dr. Alondra Nelson, builds on the Holdren Memo’s basic policies by updating the speed of access to publications, increasing federal agency participation and expanding the types of data covered by public access.
Here is what we know so far:
- The Nelson memo eliminates the optional embargo period that allowed journals and publishers to halt access to full-text journal manuscripts in federal repositories for up to 12-months past their official publication dates.
- Previously, the Holdren memo only applied to federal agencies with Research & Development (R&D) budgets of $100 million or more. The Nelson memo affects all federal grantmaking agencies.
- The data underlying scientific publications should be publicly accessible on the date of publication unless there are legal, privacy, ethical, or security concerns.
- The Nelson memo expands the scope of scientific data that should be publicly accessible from the data underlying scientific publications to include “other federally funded scientific data that are not associated with peer-reviewed scholarly publications.” Agencies are encouraged to develop ways to make this accessibility happen.
- Federal agencies with over $100 million in R&D expenditures should develop new or update existing public access plans by February 21, 2023. Agencies with $100 million or less in R&D expenditures should update or develop new plans by August 20, 2023. Publication of implementation plans should happen no later than December 31, 2024, with an effective date no later than one year after the publication of the agency plan.
Where the implementation of new and updated agency plans will likely not go into effect until 2025 or after, there is already speculation in policy communities that these changes could affect future subscription model costs or increase article processing charges (APC’s). Interestingly, the OSTP report to Congress, which the Nelson memo is based on, alludes to possible publisher responses as minimally disruptive to scholarly research economics, though calls for the creation of a government subcommittee (defined as the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Open Science in the memo) to evaluate and redistribute federal funding to minimize the impact among researchers.
It’s difficult to predict what the results of this public access update will have on researchers and publishers in the long term. What is reasonable to expect is that it will likely force financial changes in the scholarly publication model in a fashion similar to the previous memo.
We will continue to provide updates on this new policy and its impact on funders and researchers.