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A report by the White House Office of Science and technology policy, November 2023

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United States government work


Executive Summary The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) submits this report to the Appropriations Committees of the Senate and the House in fulfillment of the requirement in the Committee Report accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (P.L. 117-328) for financing mechanisms for open access publishing of federally funded research.1 According to that Report, “The Committee recognizes the considerable progress made by OSTP” and “encourages OSTP to continue its efforts to coordinate the implementation of public access policies across Federal departments and agencies and to identify additional opportunities to enhance access to the results of Federally funded research.” At the same time, the Committee expressed concern about how mechanisms for financing open access publishing “may present growing barriers to knowledge generation and sharing,” noting that there are “limited data on the subject.”

As defined by UNESCO, the term “open access publishing” refers to “the provision of free access to peer reviewed, scholarly and research information to all. It requires that the rights holder grants worldwide irrevocable right of access to copy, use, distribute, transmit, and make derivative works in any format for any lawful activities with proper attribution to the original author.”2 Recent technological and policy changes around the world have enabled free and immediate access to publicly funded research. OSTP, in collaboration with its federal partners and in consultation with external stakeholders, has been tracking the trends in opening public access to federally funded research, including trends in open access publishing. These efforts illustrate a highly complex, rapidly evolving, and vitally important scholarly communication ecosystem. Within this system, academic publishers can be viewed as a platform that matches research readers with research writers. By providing distributional and certification services, these publishers help mediate research incentives, interactions, and impact.

For research readers, substantial progress has been made in making new articles available to everyone quickly and without charge through various models for open access publishing. These readers include students, researchers, policymakers, advocates, and members of the broader public, who may not have access to paywalled articles through institutional subscriptions or who may not be able to pay to read an article. In its 2022 public access guidance, OSTP holds that: “Financial means and privileged access must never be the pre-requisites to realizing the benefits of federally funded research that the American public deserves.”3 The goal of federal public access policies is therefore to ensure that federal investments go towards unlocking knowledge supported by American taxpayers so the benefits of federally supported research can benefit all of America.

For research writers, the evolution of the scholarly communication and publishing landscape has enabled faster and broader knowledge dissemination. In general, publishers receive two of their most important inputs — article drafts and peer reviewers to review those drafts — for free; however, there are costs associated with the sorting, editing, curation, marketing, administration, outreach, training, and other functions they perform. These costs are generally opaque and vary significantly depending on the publisher and the services they provide. Over the last two decades, publishers have experimented with different financing mechanisms to deliver their services in an increasingly openaccess environment, including those specifically mentioned in the Committee Report: Article Processing Charges (APCs) that publishers levy on authors, and transformative agreements (TAs) that publishers negotiate with institutions. As documented by OSTP and by many other reports, such trends may impact who gets to publish, where, and how. As the global landscape of scholarly communication continues to develop, OSTP remains committed to ensuring the health, vitality, diversity, and fairness of the research system.

To help the federal government monitor and maximize the benefits of investments in scientific research, OSTP has prepared this report on the requested aspects of open access publishing by drawing on open datasets, analytic literature, and extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders. Sections include:

1. An overview of federal public access policies

2. Trends in academic publishing, describing a variety of business models to enable public access to federally funded research, including models that rely on APCs and those that do not

3. Approaches to public and access policies from around the world, underscoring the truly global nature of the move towards free and immediate access to scholarly literature

4. Estimated APC fees paid to publish federally funded research between 2016 to 2021

5. Limitations associated with calculating fees associated with TAs

6. Potential impacts on publishing behaviors for researchers at different institution types, career stages, and domains of research 7. Data needs for continued investigation into this important topic

Also included is an appendix on economic concepts of relevance to the financing of open access publishing, which may provide additional context to consider in considering this report.