Logo for White House Office of Science & Technology PolicyYou may have heard about some new public access requirements that will soon be coming from US Federal Government research funding agencies, based on a directive issued by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in August, 2022. Sometimes referred to as the “Nelson Memo” (because it was issued by Dr. Alondra Nelson, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for Science and Society, and at the time acting director of OSTP), the memo is titled Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research and directs federal agencies to develop or update their public access policies to ensure that the publications and supporting data resulting from federally funded research is made available to the public “without an embargo on their free and public release.” A Frequently Asked Questions document issued by the White House in December 2022 provides more detail on these new policies and their implementation.

What does it mean for you as a Duke researcher? Here are some key things to know:

  1. The new policies haven’t taken effect yet.
    • The OSTP memo directs all agencies to publish their policy and implementing provisions no later than the end of 2024, with an effective date no later than one year after that. So some of these policies may not take effect until the beginning of 2026, though many agencies are likely to issue their guidance and implementation plans well before then.
    • Agencies with budgets over $100 million (who already had public access policies based on 2013 guidance, like NIH and NSF) were directed to have their new policies announced earlier than the others. NIH and NSF published draft policies in spring and summer 2023, along with requests for comment from stakeholders, and are expected to announce the finalized policies in 2024. See the agency web sites for the latest updates from NIH (publication and data sharing) and NSF.
    • The OSTP memo directs agencies to ensure the same outcome, but recognizes that one size does not fit all, and that different disciplines and research practices will require different processes. Each agency is directed to develop a policy and process relevant to their funding area, and to coordinate with each other and avoid unnecessary complexity.
    • Keep an eye out for guidance from your funding agencies, and notices from Duke research support organizations. Some details that are beginning to emerge from funding agencies already are linked below.
  1. There is nothing in this policy that requires or even encourages you to pay article processing charges (APCs) to journals to make your work open access via a journal.
    • The OSTP guidance states that grantees may request funding to cover “reasonable publication costs,” but does not require it, and agency officials have stated that their intent is for researchers to fulfill these requirements by depositing their articles and data in a designated repository, regardless of where they publish.
    • Some publishers, such as The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science and the Science family of journals) have already indicated that they strongly support the new OSTP guidance, and will provide immediate open access to all taxpayer-funded research without delay or additional fees, to promote equitable access to both authors and readers. Many publishers are likely to follow their lead.
    • Some journal publishers may be signaling that authors with federal funding must pay them APCs in order to be published, which contradicts the language and intent of the OSTP directive. This is likely because some publishers are trying to figure out how they can make money from these new policies, and are eager to set the expectation of payment before the specific federal guidance comes out. Duke researchers should challenge any journals or publishers that insist on charging fees related to federal agency requirements.
    • A Frequently Asked Questions issued by the White House in December 2022 specifically states “Importantly, adherence to and implementation of the policy guidance in the 2022 Memorandum does not require expense on the part of the researcher.”
  1.   The policies will apply to both publications and supporting data.
    • For publications, public access will be via designated repositories. It’s not clear yet if depositing in an institutional repository like DukeSpace will meet the requirements, or if the requirement can only be met by deposit to a designated agency repository (like PubMed Central or NSF-PAR). The journals you publish in may be able to do the deposit on your behalf, and they may charge fees for this, but there will also be pathways for you to do this on your own at no additional cost.
    • For supporting data, agencies have already begun to indicate that a variety of repositories will be acceptable for deposit, and many research data repositories (including Duke’s Research Data Repository) are working to ensure that they are ready to meet the guidelines issued by the OSTP for data repositories.
  1.   The expectation is for immediate public access upon publication, without embargo.
    • Past policies from NIH and NSF that required or encouraged public access allowed publishers to enforce a time-limited embargo, during which they kept exclusive access to the publications behind a paywall. The new guidance will no longer allow embargoes, and publications and supporting data should be made openly available at the time of publication.

Some things you can start doing now to prepare for the upcoming changes

The guidance being issued by the White House isn’t just about maximizing return on research investments for the taxpayer and public – it’s also about promoting equity and further establishing as norms some things that are good for the research process in themselves, and good practice for you as a researcher and author.

Here are some things you can start doing now to establish habits that will be helpful to you and your research and publishing process, even before they become required:

  1.   Deposit your publications and supporting data in an open access repository at time of publication.
  1.   Use digital persistent identifiers (known as PIDs or DPIs) for all of your publications and data, and for your research identity.
  1.   Develop Data Management Plans (DMPs) as part of your project planning.
  1. Make use of resources at Duke to learn about and do all of the above and more


Some other things to know about the new federal public access policy guidance

  • The 2022 OSTP “Nelson memo” builds on earlier policies such as the 2013 Obama administration open access memo and the 2008 National Institutes of Health policy, expanding them to all federal agencies with research and development funding, including data as well as publications, and removing embargoes.
  • The 2022 OSTP memo covers all federal research funding agencies, including the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, so for the first time federal public access policies will apply to all disciplines and not just the sciences.
  • The 2022 OSTP memo makes clear that its intent is to support equitable access to both publishing and reading research, and that it will not support models that will make it more difficult for federally funded researchers to publish and deposit their research. It specifically instructs agencies to “consider measures to reduce inequities in publishing of, and access to, federally funded research and data, especially among individuals from underserved backgrounds and those who are early in their careers” and to “develop procedures and practices to reduce the burden on federally funded researchers in complying with public access requirements.”

Updates from federal agencies

While many agencies are not required to implement their public access policies until the beginning of 2026, some have begun to release updated guidance in 2023 and 2024:

Some references for further information


[ This document was posted in January 2023 and last updated in early November 2023. ]