Ensuring Public Access to Results of Federally Funded Research

February 25, 2013

By: George R. McGuire

The Obama administration has taken a step towards its goal of ensuring public access to federally funded research.  In a policy memorandum released on February 22, 2013 (see "Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research"), the Office of Science and Technology Policy  has directed Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research.  The memorandum is in part a response to a We the People petition signed by over 65,000 people requesting better access to taxpayer-funded research. The policy memorandum states that digitally formatted scientific data resulting from unclassified research supported wholly or in part by Federal funding should be stored and publicly accessible to search, retrieve, and analyze. For purposes of the memorandum, 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. Six-month Deadline to Provide a Plan Within 6 months from the issuance of the policy, each affected federal agency must provide a plan that provides for the following:

  • a strategy for leveraging existing archives, where appropriate, and fostering public/private partnerships with scientific journals relevant to the agency’s research;
  • a strategy for improving the public’s ability to locate and access digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research;
  • an approach for optimizing search, archival, and dissemination features that encourages innovation in accessibility and interoperability, while ensuring long-term stewardship of the results of federally funded research;
  • a plan for notifying awardees and other federally funded scientific researchers of their obligations (e.g., through guidance, conditions of awards, and/or regulatory changes);
  • an agency strategy for measuring and, as necessary, enforcing compliance with its plan;
  • identification of resources within the existing agency budget to implement the plan;
  • a timeline for implementation; and
  • identification of any special circumstances that prevent the agency from meeting any of the objectives set out in this memorandum, in whole or in part.

Further, each agency’s public access plan must, among other things, also:

  • ensure that extramural researchers receiving Federal grants and contracts for scientific research and intramural researchers develop data management plans, as appropriate, describing how they will provide for long-term preservation of, and access to, scientific data in digital formats resulting from federally funded research, or explaining why long-term preservation and access cannot be justified; and
  • allow the inclusion of appropriate costs for data management and access in proposals for Federal funding for scientific research.

Stay Tuned As this public access policy will affect university researchers and contract administrators, becoming and maintaining familiarity with the policy is important.  We will post periodic updates as more information becomes available about the policy and the various agency plans released for implementation of the policy.