Second Shoe Drops: New White House Directive Mandates Open Access
Second Shoe Drops: New White House Directive Mandates Open Access
Second Shoe Drops: New White House Directive Mandates Open Access

    Get Involved Today

    This blog post is from Peter Suber, long-time OA advocate and Director of the Harvard Open Access Project. This is cross-posted from his Friday, February 22, posting on Google Plus.

    The Obama White House today directed federal agencies to develop open-access policies within the next six months. The directive comes from John Holdren, President Obama’s chief Science Advisor.

    Here is the White House announcement and the Directive itself.

    This is big. It’s big in its own right, and even bigger when put together with FASTR, the bipartisan OA bill introduced into both houses of Congress just eight days ago. We now have OA mandates coming from both the executive and legislative branches of government. 

    The two approaches complement one another. FASTR does not make the White House directive unnecessary. FASTR may never be adopted. And if it is adopted, it will be after some time for study, education, lobbying, amendment, negotiation, and debate. By contrast, the White House directive takes effect today. The wheels are already turning. Compared to this executive action, FASTR is slower. (Thanks to Becky Cremona for this good line.)

    Similarly, the White House directive does not make FASTR unnecessary. On the contrary, we need legislation to codify federal OA policies. The next president could rescind today’s White House directive, but could not rescind legislation. (One lesson: Don’t let up on efforts to persuade Congress to pass FASTR.)

    The White House directive and FASTR pull in the same general direction, but they are not identical. Here are the key points of similarity and difference:

    • Both ask a wide range of federal funding agencies to require OA for the results of the research they fund. But the new directive applies to more agencies. FASTR covers all the agencies spending at least $100 million/year funding extramural research. The directive covers all the agencies spending at least $100 million/year funding extramural research or development. FASTR applies to about 11 agencies and the directive to about 19. Among the agencies omitted by FASTR but covered by the directive are USAid and the Smithsonian Institution.
    • Both put a limit on permissible embargoes, but the directive allows longer embargoes. FASTR caps embargos at six months, and the directive caps them at 12 months. Under the directive, agencies may ask White House permission to allow even longer embargoes, but they must submit data to support their requests.
    • Both ask agencies to develop their own policies within certain guidelines. FASTER gives them a year to do so (starting when FASTR is adopted) and the directive gives them half a year to do so (starting today).

    If FASTR is eventually adopted, then all the FASTR-covered agencies will already have OA policies under today’s directive. Some agencies may have to revise their policies to comply with FASTR guidelines, for example, reducing permissible embargoes to a maximum of six months or tweaking their libre or open-licensing requirements.

    • FASTR is silent on data, but the White House directive requires OA for articles (Section 3) and OA for data (Section 4). 
    • Both FASTR and the directive are solid green mandates, requiring deposit in an OA repository (green OA) and remaining silent about publishing in OA journals (gold OA). In that sense, both initiatives build on the successful green OA mandate at the NIH, and reject the gold-favoring approach adopted by the Research Councils UK. 
    • Both FASTR and the directive require agency policies to permit libre OA or to license repository deposits for reuse. They use different language to describe the desired type of freedom, and do not specify individual licenses.


    The Obama White House has twice collected public comments on federal OA policy. One public consultation ended in January 2010 and the other ended in January 2012. The new directive builds on those comments, which overwhelmingly supported OA. Here are the two sets of comments received.

    The White House was also pressured by a May 2012 “We the people” petition that only needed 25k signatures in the first 30 days to elicit an official response. It received that many in 14 days, and today has 65,700+ signatures. While we reached the response threshold eight months ago, I think it’s fair to say that today’s response is what we were waiting for.

    Today’s directive is accompanied by a separate, direct response to the petition.