Public Access to Research: What to Know about the OSTP’s Latest Recommendations

It’s been two months now since the Office of Science and Technology Policy released what is known as the “Nelson Memo” – Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research – official recommendations to federally funded departments and agencies regarding the publication of all federally funded research. 


This new memorandum is an update to the Office’s 2013 “Holdren Memo”, Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research which mandated that all federal agencies having more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditures require authors to make the peer-reviewed results of their research publicly accessible within one year of publication.

Since 2013, public access mandates have had a crucial influence on the growth of publicly accessible research, increasing research impact, and in the gaining influence of open access publications

Essentials of the 2022 Memo

There is no doubt that the 2022 Nelson Memorandum will continue to expedite the growth of open access publishing. The memo’s updated recommendations include:

  1. All federally funded research, at any funding level, is now recommended to be made publicly accessible.
  2. All federally funded research is recommended to be made publicly accessible immediately upon peer-reviewed publication
  3. All federally funded research is recommended to be made immediately available in an agency-designated repository by default upon peer-reviewed publication. 


But here are some other important things to note:

  • Unlike the OSTP Memo released in 2013, the 2022 Memo is not currently mandated – this means that, as of now anyway, it provides guidance rather than requirements or directives. 
  • The changes will take time to develop and the implications to be made clear. All agencies are expected to publish updated public access policies in consideration of the guidelines no later than December 31st, 2024, “with an effective date no later than one year after the publication of the agency plan.” 
  • “Publicly accessible” is not synonymous with “open access” as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative and advocates for open access. The executive memos by the OSTP provide guidance toward making peer-reviewed publications and associated data free for the public to read, but makes little mention of author-owned copyright, licensing, distribution, or other considerations significant to authors, libraries and publishers.  It will be interesting to see how publishers respond to these changes (will they provide new incentives for subscriptions or flip to fully open access models? Is privately funded and unfunded research a large enough portion of journal output sustain subscriptions?)

Librarians at New York Medical College are keeping an eye on these updates and are here to answer your questions. Contact us via Ask-a-Librarian.