Federal Research:

Additional Actions Needed to Improve Public Access to Research Results

GAO-20-81: Published: Nov 21, 2019. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 2019.

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John Neumann
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neumannj@gao.gov

 

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Public access to the results of federally funded research can accelerate scientific breakthroughs. In 2013, certain federal agencies were directed to create plans for increasing access to publications and data they funded.

The 19 agencies we reviewed made progress, but some have not fully implemented their plans. For example:

7 agencies have not taken steps to make data findable, such as creating a single web access point

4 don’t require all researchers to submit a plan to provide access to data

11 don’t fully ensure that researchers comply with access requirements

We made 37 recommendations to 16 agencies to address these and other issues.

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Additional Materials:

Contact:

John Neumann
(202) 512-4645
neumannj@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The 19 agencies that GAO reviewed have made progress implementing their plans to increase public access to federally funded research results (publications and data), as called for in a 2013 Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum. However, some agencies have not fully implemented some aspects of their plans, in particular those related to data access and mechanisms to ensure researchers comply with public access requirements.

Examples of Agencies' Progress Implementing Plans to Increase Public Access to Federally Funded Research Results

Public access plan topic

Extent of agency progress

Repositories

All 19 agencies have identified federally owned or managed locations, known as repositories, for preservation and public access to publications. For data, agencies rely on an array of federal and nonfederal repositories. However, seven agencies have not taken steps, such as establishing a single web-based point of access, or have not fully implemented plans to help the public find data stored across repositories. Taking such steps could better support public access to federally funded data.

Data management plans (DMPs)

Sixteen of 19 agencies reported requiring researchers to submit a DMP, which is supposed to describe how researchers will provide for long-term preservation and access to data they generate, or a justification for why that cannot be done. However, four agencies reported they have not established such requirements or have done so on a limited basis. Without requiring DMPs from agency-funded researchers, agencies may not be able to ensure that agency-funded data are being made publicly available.

Compliance

Eleven agencies reported that they have not fully developed or implemented mechanisms to ensure researchers comply with applicable public access requirements. Officials cited several reasons for this, including resource constraints and difficulty with tracking and measuring compliance. Without fully implementing compliance mechanisms—as called for in the OSTP memorandum—agencies may not have assurance that all appropriate federally funded research results are being made publicly available.

Source: GAO analysis of agency public access plan implementation efforts. | GAO-20-81

Agencies are coordinating with each other and with nonfederal stakeholders to implement public access plans, including through an interagency group led by OSTP and five other agencies. However, the group has not fully implemented selected leading practices identified by GAO that can enhance and sustain interagency collaboration, such as defining and articulating common outcomes. For example, according to OSTP staff, key outcomes have not yet been decided upon. Agency officials and stakeholders identified several challenges to implementing public access plans that interagency coordination might help them address, such as

Absence of common standards in several areas;

Measuring effectiveness of public access plan implementation; and

Balancing providing public access with safeguarding sensitive information.

By taking steps to fully implement relevant leading collaboration practices, the interagency group could help agencies better marshal their collective efforts to address common challenges to public access plan implementation.

Why GAO Did This Study

Research and development helps catalyze breakthroughs that improve the overall health and wellbeing of our society. Federal research and development expenditures averaged about $135 billion annually for fiscal years 2015 to 2017. According to OSTP, providing free public access to federally funded research results can improve both the impact and accountability of this important federal investment. In February 2013, OSTP directed federal agencies with more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of federally funded research. GAO was asked to examine public access to federally funded research results. This report examines the extent of agencies' (1) progress implementing plans to increase public access to federally funded research results and (2) coordination on public access plan implementation. GAO administered a questionnaire to 19 federal agencies selected based on annual research and development expenditure amounts, among other criteria; reviewed agency documents; and interviewed officials from 11 agencies, OSTP, and 21 stakeholder organizations.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making 37 recommendations to 16 agencies to promote full and effective implementation of agency public access plans. For example, GAO recommends that OSTP and 5 agencies leading a public access interagency group take steps to fully implement selected leading collaboration practices. Of the 16 agencies, 15 agreed with GAO's recommendations while 1 (OSTP) disagreed. GAO continues to believe the recommendation to OSTP is warranted.

For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or neumannj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should take steps to ensure appropriate agency-funded research data are readily findable and accessible to the public. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should take steps to ensure appropriate agency-funded research data are readily findable and accessible to the public. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality should take steps to ensure appropriate agency-funded research data are readily findable and accessible to the public. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should take steps to ensure appropriate agency-funded research data are readily findable and accessible to the public. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Food and Drug Administration

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should take steps to ensure appropriate agency-funded research data are readily findable and accessible to the public. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should take steps to ensure appropriate agency-funded research data are readily findable and accessible to the public. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the National Science Foundation should fully implement plans to ensure appropriate agency-funded research data are readily findable and accessible to the public. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should complete development of data management plan requirements for extramural researchers. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality should complete development of data management plan requirements. (Recommendation 9)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should complete development of data management plan requirements. (Recommendation 10)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator should complete development of data management plan requirements for extramural researchers. (Recommendation 11)

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  12. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should complete development of guidance and provide training to agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans. (Recommendation 12)

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  13. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator should complete development of and provide training for agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans. (Recommendation 13)

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  14. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should evaluate training needs for agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans and, if additional training is found to be warranted, develop and provide such training. (Recommendation 14)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Food and Drug Administration

  15. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should evaluate training needs for agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans and, if additional training is found to be warranted, develop and provide such training. (Recommendation 15)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  16. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should evaluate training needs for agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans and, if additional training is found to be warranted, develop and provide such training. (Recommendation 16)

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  17. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality should evaluate training needs for agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans and, if additional training is found to be warranted, develop and provide such training. (Recommendation 17)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

  18. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should evaluate training needs for agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans and, if additional training is found to be warranted, develop and provide such training. (Recommendation 18)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  19. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should evaluate training needs for agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans and, if additional training is found to be warranted, develop and provide such training. (Recommendation 19)

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  20. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Environmental Protection Agency Administrator should evaluate training needs for agency officials or others involved in reviewing the merits of researchers' data management plans and, if additional training is found to be warranted, develop and provide such training. (Recommendation 20)

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  21. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 21)

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  22. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 22)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  23. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality should develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements.(Recommendation 23)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

  24. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 24)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Food and Drug Administration

  25. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the National Institutes of Health should fully develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 25)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: National Institutes of Health

  26. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Homeland Security should develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 26)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  27. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator should fully develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 27)

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  28. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should fully develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 28)

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  29. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should fully develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 29)

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  30. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should fully develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 30)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  31. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The National Institute of Standards and Technology Director should fully develop and implement a mechanism to ensure researcher compliance with the public access plan and associated requirements. (Recommendation 31)

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Institute of Standards and Technology

  32. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: As the Subcommittee on Open Science moves forward, the Office of Science and Technology Policy co-chair, in coordination with other co-chairs and participating agencies, should take steps to fully implement leading practices that enhance and sustain collaboration. (Recommendation 32)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Science and Technology Policy

  33. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: As the Subcommittee on Open Science moves forward, the Department of Defense co-chair, in coordination with other co-chairs and participating agencies, should take steps to fully implement leading practices that enhance and sustain collaboration. (Recommendation 33)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  34. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: As the Subcommittee on Open Science moves forward, the Department of Energy co-chair, in coordination with other co-chairs and participating agencies, should take steps to fully implement leading practices that enhance and sustain collaboration. (Recommendation 34)

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  35. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: As the Subcommittee on Open Science moves forward, the National Institutes of Health co-chair, in coordination with other co-chairs and participating agencies, should take steps to fully implement leading practices that enhance and sustain collaboration. (Recommendation 35)

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: National Institutes of Health

  36. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: As the Subcommittee on Open Science moves forward, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration co-chair, in coordination with other co-chairs and participating agencies, should take steps to fully implement leading practices that enhance and sustain collaboration. (Recommendation 36)

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  37. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: As the Subcommittee on Open Science moves forward, the National Science Foundation co-chair, in coordination with other co-chairs and participating agencies, should take steps to fully implement leading practices that enhance and sustain collaboration. (Recommendation 37)

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

 

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