In March 2014, President Obama’s science advisor directed federal agencies to develop policies to improve the management of and access to scientific collections that are owned, directly managed, or financially supported by the federal government.

Notably, agencies are required to improve public access to collections.  Agencies are directed to work with the Smithsonian Institution to ensure that information on the contents of the collection is available in a central online clearinghouse.  Several new directives deal with budgeting for collection care, including outlining procedures for supporting new scientific collections.

Agencies will also be required to describe how they will apply their policy to collections managed by a third party.

In regards to de-accessioning collections, agencies are directed to give preference to transferring collections to other federal agencies or non-federal institutions that will “continue to make the collections and information about the collections accessible for research and education.”  Agencies will have to develop standards for review of the value of a collection to science, education, and resource management.  Prior to de-accession, an agency will have to consult with researchers who have used the collection and external parties interested in using the collection for research, resource management, or education.

The new guidelines were developed by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections.  Agencies will have six months to comply with the new requirements.  The policy only applies to “assets with long-term scientific value,” not “materials assembled specifically for short-term use… and not intended for long-term preservation.”

Congress directed the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in a 2010 law 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.”  The memo by Dr. John Holdren fulfills this requirement.

In 2010, Holdren directed federal agencies to budget realistically for proper care of collections, to develop best practices for maintaining and preserving scientific collections, and to make collections more accessible to the public.