New Federal funder policies put greater emphasis on public access requirements for Federally funded researchers. Are you ready for the change?

The capitol building in washington, dc.

After lengthy congressional deadlock, and as the White House’s Year of Open Science draws to a close, the 2024 US Federal budget has been passed—this 'minibus' includes funding for the White House Office and Science Technology Policy (OSTP), which advises the Executive Office of the President on the agenda for scientific research and development in the US, pending the approval of a report on costs that is due within three months.

A central aspect of the OSTP’s work is the 2022 Memorandum on Ensuring Free, Immediate and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research (also referred to as the “Nelson Memo” after Dr. Alondra Nelson, Deputy Director of the OSTP at the time the memo was issued). The Nelson Memo builds on many of the aspects of the preceding Memorandum on Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research (the “Holdren Memo”), which has shaped Federal research funding agencies’ public access policies for the past decade. The Nelson Memo sets out a timeline for Federal funding agencies to update their public access policies, and in doing so, places particular emphasis on three areas:

  1. The complete removal of embargo periods – the period of time between initial publication of a research article and its archiving in an agency-designated, publicly accessible repository; 
  2. Broadening its scope to include all Federal funding agencies, rather than just those with annual disbursements over $100m;
  3. The underlying research data for Federally funded projects must also be archived in a publicly accessible repository at time of publication.

The ensuing policy changes will have a material effect on any researcher who receives any type of Federal funding, as well as authors worldwide who have written articles in collaboration with one or more researchers in receipt of Federal funding. As approximately 15-16% of articles published in ACS journals each year are the result of funding from one or more Federal agencies, it’s clearly a change that will affect a great many author teams going forwards.

Routes to publication for all Federally funded researchers and their collaborators

The 2013 Holdren Memo made allowances for embargo periods between an article’s initial publication and its deposition into a repository. These embargo periods were typically 12 months, but the Nelson Memo’s revocation of this period means a significant change for author workflows. Articles must now be deposited at the time of publication, which typically requires authors to follow either ‘gold’ or zero-embargo ‘green’ open access routes.

Read and publish agreements are designed to help institutions and authors meet their open access publishing goals, while maintaining full reading access to subscription-access journal content. A growing number of US institutions have read and publish agreements with ACS, and if yours is among them, the agreement allows for immediate archiving of your article upon publication in repositories such as PAGES or PubMed Central. As noted above, you’ll need to check the terms of your grant to identify which repository your research funder has designated.

If you don’t have access to an ACS read and publish agreement, there are two other routes to publish with ACS that will ensure compliance with your funder’s requirements:

  • Publish your article as immediate open access with an article publishing charge (APC): all ACS journals provide the option for authors to choose immediate open access. Prices depend on the journal you have selected (see the ACS Open Science site for full information) and may be covered by your research grant. This option is the most common route for compliance with Federal funder mandates across all publishers.
  • Immediate self-archiving with an article development charge (ADC): this support for zero-embargo green open access is a new option available for authors choosing to publish in one of ACS’ 60+ hybrid journals, allowing the accepted manuscript to be posted to your funder’s designated repository at the time of publication.

Public access to research data

In addition to making your article available to the public, any underlying research data must also be freely and immediately available upon publication. Data can be deposited to a discipline-specific repository, or in generalist repository like Figshare or Zenodo (note that some repositories charge deposition fees based on dataset sizes).

This particular facet of the Nelson Memo has caused a great deal of debate, as the costs of data sharing are not insignificant. A recent report (Steinhart, G. and Skinner, K., The Cost and Price of Public Access to Research Data: A Synthesis) estimates an average cost to institutions of $750,000 per year. The cost of operating these services has led to some concerns about the sustainability of some data sharing initiatives as a survey of over 3,000 repositories listed in the re3data registry found that 6.2% had closed, with a median age at time of closure of 12 years (Strecker, D., et al., Metadata Schema for the Description of Research Data Repositories: Version 4.0).

As with article deposition, individual funders may specify which repositories should be used to house your research data.

Next steps for US-based authors

These changes mean there are more factors for author teams to consider when publishing their work, and require a high degree of trust in the publisher they choose to work with can meet their funder’s requirements.

As a first step, ACS offers the free Journal Finder tool. This allows authors to specify their institution and research funder, and will show publishing options that are compatible with any applicable mandates – as well as identifying if you have access to an ACS read and publish agreement.

You may also wish to familiarize yourself with the ACS Research Data Policy, as most ACS journals now either recommend or require a data availability statement at the time of submission—and ensuring your data is publicly available at this stage means that you will be compliant with that aspect of your funder’s policy when the final article is published.

We at ACS are aware that these changes will result in a complex landscape for our US-based authors. If you have any questions, please get in touch.

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