Today, the US White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a directive to federal agencies that own or support scientific collections calling for improved management and access to these collections. Here’s the directive text (PDF).
Scientific collections are assemblies of physical objects that are valuable for research and education—including drilling cores from the ocean floor and glaciers, seeds, space rocks, cells, mineral samples, fossils, and more. Federal agencies develop and maintain scientific collections as records of our past and investments in our future.
These collections are public assets. They play an important role in promoting public health and safety, homeland security, trade, and economic development, medical research, resource management, education, and environmental monitoring.
They are studied across diverse fields of research and are used and re-used to validate and extend past research results as new analytical techniques develop. For the American public, students, and teachers, they are also treasure troves of information ripe for exploration and learning.
And there is no better time to highlight this important new policy than Sunshine Week – an annual celebration of transparency and public participation in government.
The memorandum released today fulfills the requirements of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 that called on OSTP to develop “policies for the management and use of Federal scientific collections to improve the quality, organization, access, including online access, and long-term preservation of such collections for the benefit of the scientific enterprise.”
A short quote from the directive that provides some sense of the scope:
Therefore, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hereby directs each Federal agency that owns, maintains, or otherwise financially supports permanent scientific collections to develop a draft scientific-collections management and access policy within six months. Agencies should collaborate through the IWGSC [the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections] while developing these draft policies to reduce redundancy and identify opportunities for common requirements and standards. The end goal will be a systematic improvement of the development, management, accessibility, and preservation of scientific collections owned and/or funded by Federal agencies.
The requirements below are intended to apply to institutional scientific collections owned, maintained, or financially supported by the U.S. Government. This policy applies to scientific collections, known in some disciplines as institutional collections, permanent collections, archival collections, museum collections, or voucher collections, which are assets with long-term scientific value. Materials assembled specifically for short-term use, sometimes referred to as “project collections”, and not intended for long-term preservation, do not fall under this policy, but such collections should be reviewed periodically and carefully to ensure that they should not be considered institutional collections.