“A scenario that has been on the minds of publishers over the past decade (and incorporated into strategic planning scenarios by many publishers) is the possibility of “zero embargo.” In 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued policy guidance to agencies in the form of the OSTP memorandum on “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research” (the “2013 Memorandum,” also widely referred to as the “Holdren Memo” because it was issued by John Holdren, at the time the Director of OSTP). The Holdren Memo directed federal agencies in the US with annual research and development budgets of more than $100 million to develop access policies to ensure public access to federally funded research. While the Holdren Memo provided wide latitude to agencies on many of the specifics, the memo put forth a 12-month post-publication embargo period as a guideline. By “post-publication embargo period,” the Holdren Memo was referring to the period between publication of an article resulting from funded research in a journal and the freely accessible public release of that journal article in the form of either the author accepted manuscript (AAM) or the final published version of record (VOR).
OSTP is an office of the White House and as such sets policy on behalf of the US President. The US federal agencies—including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DOD), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and so on—are part of the Executive Branch and therefore under White House oversight. Any OSTP policy can be revised by a subsequent administration, and one possibility has always been that the 12-month post-publication embargo could be shortened, potentially to zero. Indeed, such a scenario almost occurred during the Trump administration when such a memorandum was drafted, though it was never ultimately issued.
Rumors have been circulating for months that the Biden administration has been reviewing the Holdren Memo as part of a wider review of open science policy. Last week, Alondra Nelson (currently heading OSTP) issued a memorandum titled “Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research” (the “2022 Memorandum, or the “Nelson Memo”). The Nelson Memo is accompanied by an impact statement titled “Economic Landscape of Federal Public Access Policy” (the “2022 Impact Statement”), which was submitted to Congress pursuant to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022. The 2022 Memorandum directs federal agencies to develop policies that will require free public release of research articles upon publication, and that all supporting research data behind the articles be similarly made immediately and freely available.
The zero embargo scenario has arrived….”