Sunshine Week: Increasing Access to Publicly Funded Research

Ed. Note: This post is part of a Sunshine Week series on Sunshine Week is a national initiative to celebrate and focus on government transparency and open government.

During Sunshine Week, we celebrate the ways government can improve public use of government information. Much of the discussion this week has been on steps the Administration has taken to liberate government-owned data, but we recently took an equally important step to increase public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government. Last month, John Holdren, President Obama’s science and technology advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, issued a memo to the heads of Federal agencies with research and development budgets over $100 million requiring them to draft plans to dramatically increase public access to the results of the research they support. The memo focused on two key products of funded research: peer-reviewed scholarly publications and scientific data.

The rationale for the policy was made plain in a Web posting by Dr. Holdren in response to a We the People petition that called for the government to develop such a policy—a petition, incidentally, that garnered more than 65,000 signatures!

“We know that scientific research supported by the Federal Government spurs scientific breakthroughs and economic advances when research results are made available to innovators,” Dr. Holdren wrote. “Policies that mobilize these intellectual assets for re-use through broader access can accelerate scientific breakthroughs, increase innovation, and promote economic growth… Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support.”

As a result of the Administration’s policy, more than 20 Federal agencies will, within the next six months, produce draft plans describing how they will make the peer-reviewed published results of federally funded research available to the public. As further described in Dr. Holdren’s memo, we established a guideline of twelve-months following publication for research results to be made available and, once implemented, this will be one of the largest steps ever taken to increase free access to the results of research that taxpayers paid for.

That alone would be an historic step forward, but the Administration has taken a similarly strong stance on the importance of preserving and mobilizing data created in the course of federally funded scientific research. Reflecting this priority, Dr. Holdren’s memo also directs agencies to “maximize access, by the general public and without charge…scientific data created with Federal funds.” As a starting point, agency policies will require scientists applying for Federal funds to craft data management plans detailing how they will preserve and provide access to the data they produce. Importantly, these plans will be peer-reviewed to ensure they fulfill the spirit of the policy. And in recognition that data management and sharing take effort, scientists will be allowed to budget for the management of data in their future research proposals.

Taken together, the Administration’s new public access and data management policies provide a powerful new means of leveraging openness to drive America’s knowledge economy—by making information more readily available to teachers, students, entrepreneurs, and other innovators, and by creating new markets for services related to data curation, preservation, analysis, and reuse.

  • Read the OSTP Policy Memorandum here.
  • Read the We the People petition response here.

Nick Sinai is US Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

Mike Stebbins is Assistant Director for Biotechnology at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

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