By: Christopher Steven Marcum, Assistant Director for Open Science and Data Policy
Ryan Donohue, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow and Senior Policy Advisor
Public access to Federally funded research and data is critical for accelerating discovery, fostering collaboration, advancing equity, ensuring government accountability, and maximizing America’s returns on its billions of dollars in investments in basic research. This research data, generated by researchers in the Federal government, across the country, and around the world, is at the cutting edge of our understanding in virtually every area of scholarly endeavor. However, the mechanisms of collection, maintenance, and sharing of this rich trove of information is inconsistent across Federal agencies, including among those that support research in similar or related disciplines. Further, while all major Federal research funding agencies have developed plans that identify publicly accessible online data repositories, there is no consistent guidance for how these agencies can support common expectations about the sharing of those data. As a result, Federally funded data resources can be difficult to access and impede critical progress for the Nation.
The value of sharing Federally funded data as a public asset – with direct benefit to the health and well-being of the American public – became clear during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Encouraged by Federal agencies, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, researchers rapidly shared their COVID-19 data through a wide variety of free, online resources. Public access to COVID-19 data accelerated discoveries and hastened the translation of research into prevention strategies, treatments, vaccines, and standards of care that ultimately saved lives, despite the dire and ongoing toll of the pandemic. One of the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic for data sharing is that public access policies can benefit all of America.
To help ensure that access is shared equitably by all Americans, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been working for nearly a decade to ensure that Federal agencies with research and development budgets of at least $100 million develop plans to deposit Federally funded data into online digital repositories.
To continue this effort, today OSTP is releasing the report Guidance on Desirable Characteristics of Data Repositories for Federally Funded Research. This guidance contains clearly defined desirable characteristics for two classes of online research data repositories: a general class appropriate for all types of Federally funded data—including free and easy access—and a specific class that has special considerations for the sharing of human data, including additional data security and privacy considerations. Federal agencies can use this guidance to provide more consistent information to their research communities about sharing Federally funded data with the public.
Agencies can also use this guidance to ensure uniformity as they invest in their own digital repository infrastructure and to make their research data resources more findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. It is expected that this guidance will not be static, but rather, will be updated as needed, as new modes of data storage and management emerge and agency needs evolve. Ultimately, this guidance—along with the agency efforts detailed in OSTP’s recent report to Congress—will help make Federally funded research data more accessible to the American public. The release of this guidance is one of many steps that OSTP is taking to advance equitable delivery of research and strengthen Federal public access policies.