US Government Reveals Big Changes to Open Access Policy

The new policy recommends that federal agencies ensure that their grant recipients’ research is made available in a public repository without delay after publication.Credit: Shutterstock

US research agencies should make the results of federally funded research free as soon as they are published, the administration of President Joe Biden has announced. This is a major change from current policies which allow for up to a year delay before documents are released outside the paywalls.

Because the United States is the world’s largest funder of research, the change – which must be implemented by the end of 2025, if not sooner – is a boost for the growing research movement. access (OA) to make scientific research accessible to the public. This has already been strongly encouraged by Plan S, a push towards open access without embargo led by European donors. “It’s a very big problem,” says Peter Suber, who directs the Harvard Open Access Project at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This new US policy is a game-changer for scholarly publishing,” adds Johan Rooryck, executive director of funder group cOAlition S which is behind the European-led plan.

The policy change was announced on August 25, in directives that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued to federal agencies. The OSTP recommends that agencies ensure that the peer-reviewed work of their grantees is made available in an agency-approved public repository without delay after publication. Each agency can develop its own protocols on precisely how this should be done – a process to be completed within six months to a year.

“The American people fund tens of billions of dollars in cutting-edge research every year,” Alondra Nelson, acting head of OSTP, said in a statement.. “There should be no delays or barriers between the American public and the returns on their research investments.”

The White House does not insist that articles also be published in open access in scientific journals. But with future U.S. research articles becoming immediately available in repositories, publishers might worry that libraries will cancel journal subscriptions. They could respond by leaning more towards OA editing, observers say. So far, journal publishers have mostly responded by saying they are committed to providing open access options to researchers. However, some said they hoped US agencies would also provide more funding for OA publishing, and others said they were worried about the sustainability of their businesses.

Access without delay

The OSTP guidelines are based on US public access policies that date back nearly two decades. In 2008, the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the main funders of biomedical research, asked scientists receiving its grants to deposit their studies in a public repository within a year of their publication. Seven years later, the administration of then US President Barack Obama expanded this requirement to include recipients of funds from about 20 other federal agencies. Under this policy, more than eight million scholarly publications have been made free, and together they are viewed by three million people daily.

The latest White House guidelines eliminate the one-year grace period. It was developed over the past year with input from several federal agencies, according to the White House, which says the policy will enhance innovation and transparency by ensuring everyone has access to the results of research funded by the taxpayers. It has been difficult to engage the entire US federal government because of the large number of agencies and the variety of research they fund, from basic and applied sciences to the humanities. “Now we’re going to be open wall-to-wall access,” says Suber.

Those who follow OA trends are waiting to see how US policy will change the science publishing industry as a whole. “A lot will depend on how publishers react,” says Robert Kiley, chief strategy officer at Coalition S.

In theory, focusing on public repositories that can house accepted, peer-reviewed versions of articles allows journals to continue charging subscription fees to institutions and keep final articles behind a paywall. In practice, eliminating the 12-month delay before opening US search could change that, if publishers fear losing subscription revenue. “This will help accelerate the momentum toward shifting the system to fully open access to journals,” says Lisa Hinchliffe, librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It’s also unclear whether US funding agencies or libraries would offer to increase their support for researchers who must cover the initial per-article fee that most journals charge for open access publication. A separate OSTP Analysis of the Economics of US Public Access Policy, also published Aug. 25, notes that the NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF) currently cover these costs. The OSTP estimates that these publication costs currently amount to about 0.5% of the NIH research budget. But research libraries spend much more: their public access expenditures fluctuate between 0.2% and 11% of their budgets.

Kiley expects an ecosystem of mixed business models to emerge: some journals, for example, will adopt models that avoid charging authors a per-article fee, such as bundled contracts with libraries.

Editors’ reactions

Journal publishers contacted by Nature say they support the White House’s goals and are prepared to ensure the authors can meet the new demands. A spokesperson for Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific publisher, says it “actively supports open access to research” and looks forward to working with the OSTP to understand its directions. “We believe it is too early to tell whether these directions will impact our journals,” Sudip Parikh, executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC, said in a statement. . AAAS already allows authors to post accepted manuscripts to institutional repositories immediately after publication, and Parikh said his organization is exploring other ways to enable access to these manuscripts, which will help “ensure seamless access.” fair to scientific publication for readers and authors”.

Carrie Webster, vice president of OA at Springer Nature, which publishes Nature, notes that the company has 580 fully open access journals and 2,000 publications that are committed to becoming fully open access. But she adds that the society hopes to see “commitment from US federally funded agencies to support the Golden OA,” referring to financial support for the publication of open access articles in journals. (NatureThe press team of is editorially independent of its publisher.)

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) in Washington D.C. released a statement saying the OSTP announcement “comes without formal and meaningful consultation or public input during this administration on a decision that will have far-reaching ramifications. , including a serious economic impact”. He said he was concerned about the “sustainability and quality of the business”. The AAP was among publishers that strongly opposed a rumored White House change to US public access policy in 2019.

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