Peter Suber
3 years agoEditedPublic
Second shoe drops: new White House Directive mandates OA

The Obama White House today directed federal agencies to develop open-access policies within the next six months. The directive comes from John Holdren <>, President Obama's chief Science Advisor.

White House announcement

Directive itself

This is big. It's big in its own right, and even bigger when put together with FASTR <>, the bipartisan OA bill introduced into both houses of Congress just eight days ago. We now have OA mandates coming from both the executive and legislative branches of government. 

The two approaches complement one another. FASTR does not make the White House directive unnecessary. FASTR may never be adopted. And if it is adopted, it will be after some time for study, education, lobbying, amendment, negotiation, and debate. By contrast, the White House directive takes effect today. The wheels are already turning. Compared to this executive action, FASTR is slower. (Thanks to Becky Cremona for this good line.)

Similarly, the White House directive does not make FASTR unnecessary. On the contrary, we need legislation to codify federal OA policies. The next president could rescind today's White House directive, but could not rescind legislation. (One lesson: Don't let up on efforts to persuade Congress to pass FASTR.)

The White House directive and FASTR pull in the same general direction, but they are not identical. Here are the key points of similarity and difference:

* Both ask a wide range of federal funding agencies to require OA for the results of the research they fund. But the new directive applies to more agencies. FASTR covers all the agencies spending at least $100 million/year funding extramural research. The directive covers all the agencies spending at least $100 million/year funding extramural research or development. FASTR applies to about 11 agencies and the directive to about 19. Among the agencies omitted by FASTR but covered by the directive are USAid and the Smithsonian Institution.

* Both put a limit on permissible embargoes, but the directive allows longer embargoes. FASTR caps embargos at six months, and the directive caps them at 12 months. Under the directive, agencies may ask White House permission to allow even longer embargoes, but they must submit data to support their requests.

* Both ask agencies to develop their own policies within certain guidelines. FASTER gives them a year to do so (starting when FASTR is adopted) and the directive gives them half a year to do so (starting today).

If FASTR is eventually adopted, then all the FASTR-covered agencies will already have OA policies under today's directive. Some agencies may have to revise their policies to comply with FASTR guidelines, for example, reducing permissible embargoes to a maximum of six months or tweaking their libre or open-licensing requirements.

* FASTR is silent on data, but the White House directive requires OA for articles (Section 3) and OA for data (Section 4). 

* Both FASTR and the directive are solid green mandates, requiring deposit in an OA repository (green OA) and remaining silent about publishing in OA journals (gold OA). In that sense, both initiatives build on the successful green OA mandate at the NIH, and reject the gold-favoring approach adopted by the Research Councils UK. 

* Both FASTR and the directive require agency policies to permit libre OA or to license repository deposits for reuse. They use different language to describe the desired type of freedom, and do not specify individual licenses.


The Obama White House has twice collected public comments on federal OA policy. One public consultation ended in January 2010 and the other ended in January 2012. The new directive builds on those comments, which overwhelmingly supported OA. Here are the two sets of comments received.

The White House was also pressured by a May 2012 "We the people" petition that only needed 25k signatures in the first 30 days to elicit an official response. It received that many in 14 days, and today has 65,700+ signatures. While we reached the response threshold eight months ago, I think it's fair to say that today's response is what we were waiting for.

Today's directive is accompanied by a separate, direct response to the petition.

This is another in a series of blog posts on FASTR and other federal actions to support OA to federally-funded research. I'll pull the series of posts together for an article in the March issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter.

#oa #openaccess #fastr #opendata #obamadirective

Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research | The White House
Hilton Gibson3 years ago
Gr8 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bryan Bishop3 years ago
Michael Nielsen also wrote up some commentary here:
Amanda French3 years ago
Thanks, Peter -- I was wondering about the relationship between the law and the policy. Over on Twitter we've also been discussing whether the policy will apply to NEH - -  which has about $124m in funding for grants. I also notice you don't mention IMLS in this post: Any thoughts about those humanities-oriented agencies?+2
Heather Morrison3 years ago
Kudos and cheers to everyone in the U.S. who has worked so hard for this policy over the years!!! A quick celebration before getting back to pushing for FASTR is in order!+1
The ACH wants to help its members make the connection -- especially with regard to digital humanities research: +2
This is great news!+1
Mike Taylor3 years ago
I am absolutely exhausted by the firehose of OA news! What a wonderful moment this is, to counterbalance and outweigh the House of Lords' regressive statement earlier today. My heartiest congratulations and thanks to everyone who was involved in making this happen.+1
Basil James3 years ago
It's about time.
John Baez3 years ago
Wow, open access to the data too!   I hadn't noticed that. +2
Michal Galdzicki3 years ago
An Open access win!+1
Fantastic. Let's hope it sticks.
Tim McCormick3 years ago
Today's Open Access policy directive from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is great news. However, I'm struck by the pervasive conflation of "scientific research" with "all publicly funded research" or of open access generally, in almost all reporting or discussion of the OSTP memo and the related FASTR bill recently submitted by Sen. Wyden. The bill and memo explicitly refer only to scientific research, and their terms seem to leave it unclear if or how their policies would apply to key humanities funders such as NEH ($150M budget) and IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Studies, $240M budget), and perhaps to social sciences work, or to "research" outside of the obvious cases of peer-reviewed research literature and data.

Many science advocates or open access advocates may find other fields marginal to irrelevant, often basing that on funding figures -- a view I've often heard. Of course, the NIH's $30B dwarfs the NEH's budget, but scientific research is also vastly more expensive than humanities work. In the big picture, most research/scholarly funding is in the form of employee compensation and facilities, an amount much larger than the sums explicitly accounted as "research" funds, and this pays for vast areas of non-STEM output. Also, funds and policies from agencies like NEH, IMLS, and the Smithsonian catalyze and shape much larger funding flows at state and local level, and academic and foundation sectors.

In general I find it unfortunate that so much open access advocacy seems willing to narrow its scope to the limited and politic case of "science" and "research," and foreground such parochial rationales as "citizens deserve easy access to the results of scientific research their tax dollars have paid for," in the words of today's OTP announcement. Such tax-protester, consumer-entitlement language of "my" tax dollars may be effective in some contexts, but it's a rather strained expression of the more foundational, universal ideals of enlightenment and global scientific culture, Jeffersonian public knowledge, and the public sphere, which have the power to drive more global, long-term action.

After all, do we want people to have access only to science their own nation funded? Or this movement not to apply to anything funded by the Wellcome Trust, Howard Hughes, or any other private foundation or company or university? Do we want to suggest that only the works of the current peer-review publishing system count as "research," or that our world needs no cultural sustenance besides scientific research?

No, of course not, we realize there are all kinds of knowledge, and believe that making most knowledge as open as possible creates an invaluable public good -- from scientific research to government data to Wikipedia to open source software to archives to classic literature to open educational resources. That's the big picture.

While celebrating this win, let's keep our eyes on the prize.
Dale Stanton3 years ago
I'm still waiting for the Executive Branch to "develop open-access policies" like it promised. "Citizens deserve easy access" to our government.
Mike Taylor3 years ago
Tim, that's a fair criticism, and I've been particularly guilty. I can tell you that, at least in my case, it doesn't indicate any hostility towards HSS; only that, as a scientific researcher myself I've had a tendency to unthinkingly conflate the two concepts. I'll try to do better on not unthinkingly talking about "science" when I mean "all research".
Lyubomir Penev3 years ago
No doubt that this is a great step forward, but again, the compromise in favor  of Green instead of Gold open access confuses the whole process.
William Gunn3 years ago
It's a fair point, +Tim McCormick , but this is the OSTP we're talking about.+1
Sherman Dorn3 years ago
The open-access principle on publications is great. I am worried by the open-access principle on data, both from a standpoint of protecting human participants in medical and social-science research and also from the standpoint of unfunded obligations of principal investigators. In many cases a funded project is essentially a single faculty member, with or without one or two research assistants, and few PI's are trained or experienced in anonymizing data or preparing documentation for use by those unfamiliar with a project. 
William Gunn3 years ago
+Sherman Dorn The NSF has been working with investigators for quite some time on data management plans, so I think there's enough institutional knowledge between librarians and researchers to make this work. Obviously no one is suggesting that data from human participant experiments should be just released on the web.
Sherman Dorn3 years ago
I've seen the roll-out of data management plans, and there's a big difference between having a data management plan (some plan) and having a data management plan that moves data to public access. I think you're overestimating the ease of this. 
Peter Suber3 years ago
I just published the March issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter. As promised at the end of the post above, it includes a long article on FASTR and the White House OA directive, incorporating this blog post and a lot more detail and comment as well.
David Daniels3 years ago
Where will this new research be housed? Institutional repositories? A federal repository? Maybe a little of both?
William Gunn3 years ago
They are letting the agencies decide. Some may build on Pubmed Central, some may roll their own, some may let the publishers build a solution for them.
David Daniels3 years ago
Ok... off topic somewhat here, but Mr. Suber I have read some of what you have written on embargo periods for research. You have written a couple of times about the importance of shorter embargo periods for medical research. Can you point me to something that says why it is important? A study or research perhaps? Thanks