Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee are seeking to stop a Biden administration effort that would make the results of federally funded research immediately available to the public for free.
Tucked away in contentious budget legislation is a provision that would explicitly ban federal agencies covered by the bill from using their funds to carry out what is known as the Nelson memo. The memo was issued to federal departments and agencies in August 2022 by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Entitled “Ensuring Free, Immediate and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research,” the memo aims to give federal agencies guidelines on updating public access policies.
The fate of the proposed provisions ultimately depends on an expected budget battle.
A similar policy to that outlined in the memo was implemented in 2013, requiring federal agencies with more than $100 million in research expenditures to develop plans to increase public access to the results of publicly funded research. According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, that 2013 effort led to more than eight million scholarly publications being made available to the public. More than three million people a day read the articles free, according to the office. However, there is a 12-month embargo that is optional for any publication that receives federal dollars.
The Nelson memo lays out a litany of updates to the policy, most notably urging federal agencies to update or change their open-access policy by having no delay or embargo after a piece of federally funded research is published.
“This [embargo] provision has limited immediate access of federally funded research results to only those able to pay for it or who have privileged access through libraries or other institutions,” the office stated in its August 2022 release of the Nelson memo. “Financial means and privileged access must never be the prerequisites to realizing the benefits of federally funded research that the American public deserves.”
The memo’s name comes from the sender, Alondra Nelson, former acting director at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.