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White House formally invites public comment on open-access policies

Originally published by E&E News

The White House issued a notice Wednesday seeking comment on its effort to enhance public access to federally funded research. It's an old idea creating new controversy.

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Kelvin Droegemeier is pushing back against publishers that in December said the administration was quietly pursuing an executive order to require immediate free distribution of taxpayer funded research (Greenwire, 17 December 2019).

Publishers feared the plan could upend their fee-based business model. But this week, Droegemeier formally assured them that his office is still seeking public input on the topic.

"Over the last two years, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has held nearly 100 meetings with publishers, universities, researchers, and others on important issues related to improving public access to U.S. taxpayer funded research," he said in a press release.

Droegemeier said he intends to continue to hear from "as many voices of the research community" as possible before a White House policy becomes final. He said a range of opinions will "remain at the forefront in our ongoing work." The public comment period ends March 16.

The issue simmered in December when publishers, led by the Association of American Publishers in Washington, D.C., wrote a bold letter to the White House stating, "We have learned that the Administration may be preparing to step into the private marketplace and force the immediate free distribution of journal articles financed and published by organizations in the private sector, including many non-profits."

That, they wrote, would effectively nationalize American intellectual property and "force us to give it away to the rest of the world for free."

More than 125 publishing groups and other organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, signed the letter.

Piling on the opposition, Sen. Thom Tillis (R–NC) wrote a letter to the White House suggesting that the rumored plan could amount to "significant government interference in an otherwise well-functioning private marketplace that gives doctors, scientific researchers and others options about how they want to publish these important contributions to science."

The controversy defies partisan politics, pitting major U.S. publishers and smaller academic societies against longtime, less-funded public access advocates.

The Trump White House's effort builds on a 2013 Obama administration memo that made public taxpayer-funded research available within a year of publication. At the time, it was seen as a compromise.

Many academic journals that produce peer-reviewed articles are funded by subscription fees, and this White House initiative could dry up that revenue stream.

It could force publishers to shift their business model so that authors have to pay steeper article processing charges. Those fees could be insurmountable for researchers working off of fairly small grants.

In the past month, Droegemeier's office has held meetings with publishers, academics and others. Lisa Nichols, OSTP's assistant director for academic engagement, is receiving public comments.

On Jan. 30, OSTP posted a photo on Twitter of Droegemeier and publishers gathered around a conference table at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

"Today was the first meeting in a series about scholarly communications," OSTP tweeted. "Dr. Droegemeier & @WHOSTP staff met with academic groups to discuss open science & public access. We are exploring opportunities to make the products of federally funded research more accessible. #USResearch."

OSTP spokeswoman Kristina Baum noted that the Jan. 30 meeting was the first in a recent series of meetings on open access, and confirmed that in the past two years, there have been more than 100 on the topic generally.

Those meetings predate Droegemeier's tenure at the office. The Senate confirmed him to lead OSTP in January 2019.

John McKay, spokesman for the Association of American Publishers, said in an email that he is "happy to see OSTP reaching out to learn more about the important contributions of the private sector when it comes to investing in and lawfully disseminating research and knowledge in the 21st century."

He added that the publishing industry is in "a highly innovative era."

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2020. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at

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