- From the end of 2025, US government policy will mandate immediate open access to federally funded research data and publications, eliminating the current 12-month embargo.
- While further details on implementation are worked out, publishers, funders, and researchers grapple with the best ways to fund open access.
A year ago, the US White House announced plans to make all federally funded research immediately available for free by the end of 2025. So, what progress has been made, and what will this model mean for the status quo in medical publishing?
The mandate from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) instructed all federal agencies to implement plans to “deliver transparent, open, secure, and free communication of federally funded research and activities”. Under the new directive, publications must be made instantly available to the public, removing the current optional 12-month grace period. In line with a similar mandate from the WHO, the directive also applies to research data.
The mandate from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) instructed all federal agencies to implement plans to “deliver transparent, open, secure, and free communication of federally funded research and activities”.
The OSTP left it to federal funding agencies to work out the finer details of implementation, which led to a flurry of debate on the policy’s potential impact and how best to enact it. Publishers raised concerns around what they viewed as a lack of consultation and financial sustainability, while the US government pointed to the success of Plan S in Europe, as well as the rapid open access to research seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What will this mean for medical publishing?
In an economic assessment report, the OSTP predicted that the policy would lead to changes in publishers’ business models. The move to immediate open access will inevitably make journal subscription models less desirable, and publishers’ incomes will likely become more reliant on the article processing fees levied on open access publications. As reported by Susan d’Agostino of Inside Higher Ed, this raises the question of who will bear these costs. The OSTP allows researchers to “include reasonable publication costs” in their budgets, but some researchers point out that budget squeezes may follow, with open access fees impacting on funds available for other aspects of research.
Following the policy launch, the OSTP held a Year of Open Science, with federal funding agencies obliged to submit initial updated public access plans over the course of 2023. Large funders, such as the National Institutes of Health, have already done so. The year also incorporated 4 ‘listening sessions’ with early-career researchers. These researchers advocated for a broader range of initiatives to ensure:
- equitable access to open access publishing
- incentives for open science, rather than the current ‘publish or perish’ environment
- better use of alternative avenues for early research dissemination, such as preprints.
Meanwhile, some publishers and other bodies advocate for alternative models, such as:
So, what’s next?
Questions remain for publishers, and the road to more fully open access models can be rocky. While the European Plan S initiative is much more advanced, having been in effect since 2021, cOAlition S recently announced that a number of hybrid journals will be dropped from its funded transformation programme, because they failed to make quick enough progress towards full open access. In the case of the US policy, an analysis by Eric Schares found that 265,000 articles a year could be affected, and that some publishers would be impacted more than others.
As work continues through to 2026, we watch with interest to see how the publishing ecosystem will adapt to this change in the landscape.