Published: Sept. 1, 2022

CU Boulder leaders are reacting positively to last week’s policy update by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) stipulating that agencies make the results of taxpayer-supported research “immediately available to the American public at no cost.”

Alondra Nelson, the head of OSTP, issued a memorandum on Aug. 25 with guidance for federal agencies to update their public access policies “as soon as possible” and to make taxpayer-funded research publicly accessible “without an embargo or cost.”

The memorandum’s guidance updates existing federal policies on access to publications and data resulting from federally funded research, related to a 2013 memorandum issued by the Obama administration. In last week’s updated guidance, OSTP cites public feedback stating a major limitation of the 2013 policy is the optional 12-month embargo on making available to the public data and publications based on federally funded research.

The most recent guidance dramatically updates the 2013 policy and directs federal agencies to update their public access policies to make publications and data based on federally funded research publicly accessible at the time of publication.

Agencies must fully implement the new policies by Dec. 31, 2025.

The OSTP is directing agencies with more than $100 million in annual R&D expenditures to draft updates to their public access plan within 180 days, removing all embargoes on scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research, ensuring machine readability of articles posted in repositories, and updating policies to ensure data associated with scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research is made immediately available to the public upon publication, as appropriate.

The directive also requires agencies to consult with those impacted as they develop their plans, with a requirement for making publishing and data-sharing costs allowable in research grants. Agencies are also directed to develop plans and timelines for maximizing access to other federally funded data that is not connected to publications.

Agencies are required to publish their plans by the close of 2024.

Implementing the policy at CU

“This is a welcome development that will further the public good,” said CU Boulder Acting Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Massimo Ruzzene. “Federally funded research should be freely available to the public and scientific collaborators without undue delays or financial burdens.”

Ruzzene said he was looking forward to “working with our federal partners and peer universities to implement this policy as soon as feasible given the OSTP timeline.”

“In the meantime, we are assessing the short- and long-term implications of this guidance on our operations to ensure a timely and smooth transition to an environment that is more accessible to all,” Ruzzene said.

Robert H. McDonald, dean of University Libraries and senior vice provost for online education, also heralded the move by the OSTP.

“Currently, 38% of CU Boulder faculty-authored journal articles published in 2021 are behind publisher paywalls. With the considerable amount of federal funding CU researchers receive, we will no doubt see a significant portion of this research become publicly available following this new guidance and the following updates to agency public access and data sharing plans,” he said.

McDonald said that University Libraries faculty and staff have been strongly advocating and working toward this open publishing outcome for over a decade by building expertise and infrastructure, including the Boulder campus’s CU Scholar repository, “to support a reality where all research can be openly shared.”

“The implications of this policy guidance will be far-reaching for all those whose research is funded by the federal government, and the Libraries are excited to continue and expand our efforts to help CU Boulder researchers at all levels navigate this environment,” McDonald said.

Librarians at CU Boulder and across the country, along with researchers in federally supported institutes and centers on campuses across the country, have both long questioned the impacts of federally sponsored research being sequestered in journals—pointing out the impacts of that limitation on early-career researchers.

“For early-career faculty in particular, this is a real game-changer,” said Michele Moses, CU Boulder’s vice provost and associate vice chancellor of faculty affairs. “Having full and immediate access to data and research findings—which many graduate students, early-career faculty and postdocs don’t have under the current research publication firewalls—will have positive effects on equity and affordability and will expand the reach and impact that some of our most energetic scholars can make in their research fields.”

The OSTP mandate also has strong fiscal implications for libraries, long term.

“We've long thought this was one major domino that needed to fall in order to change the power dynamic that large commercial publishers have held with regard to library budgets,” said Andrew Johnson, CU Boulder interim executive director of the Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship and lead for the Data and Scholarly Communication Services Section of CU Libraries. “Other things need to happen, as well, but ultimately this could create a completely new landscape for the way research is published and communicated, including the business models underlying it.”

Provost Russ Moore echoed Ruzzene in noting, “There will be a lot of planning we will need to do to accommodate this true sea change in how research findings are shared,” but added that the new federal policy “is a catalyst to innovation in both research and teaching.”

“For our academic mission, this will greatly improve collaboration among researchers at all levels, with benefits for everyone from postdocs to graduate students and undergraduate students, and it will accelerate innovation in research fields that have direct public impact,” Moore said.

Moore also said he looked forward to potentially collaborating with Pac-12 and AAU research university peers on what the future of publishing federally funded research might look like. 

“There are some exciting possibilities for research publishing partnerships, consortiums and associations among the nation’s public research universities. I can guarantee CU Boulder will be a player in this discussion,” Moore said.