Scientific Collections: Mission-Critical Infrastructure for Federal Science Agencies

The IWGSC promotes responsible stewardship of the object-based scientific collections that serve the missions of the U.S. Federal Government. This clearinghouse provides information about the history of the IWGSC, the participating U.S. Federal Departments and Agencies, and the policies that govern the stewardship of these resources.

The U.S. Federal Scientific Collections registry (USFSC) is an online portal that provides top-level information about the scientific collections owned by the Federal Government and their parent institutions.


Robert Gropp, co-Executive Director of the American Institute for Biological Sciences, recently published an editorial in BioScience that not only argues for the maintenance of current biological collections, but emphasizes the importance of continuing to collect.

He goes on to announce, the future needs of natural-history collections, as well as their potential future uses in research and education, are among the issues being addressed by the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN), a National Science Foundation–funded research coordination network project. BCoN is in the process of organizing a workshop to be held later in 2018 to explore potential research opportunities arising from digitized collections. BCoN will solicit advice from the scientific community in the next few months about other issues that will shape future research opportunities associated with biodiversity collections. If you have ideas or wish to contribute to these discussions, please join the BCoN community at

Read the full editorial here.

[17 Jan 2018]

User facilities - from research facilities housing specialized equipment, to repositories and field stations that house physical collections - and their government sponsors stand to benefit from improved acknowledgement of their use and a better understanding of the impact generated by work undertaken with their support.

Following this premise, ORCID and their User Facilities and Publications Working Group recently released a report on their investigation into how user facilities, publishers, and scholarly infrastructure providers can collaborate to streamline the sharing of information between researchers, user facilities, and publishers, to improve the capture of outputs from these facilities, and to lessen reporting burdens on researchers.

A summary of the report was published on the ORCID blog and the report can be found at this link

[19 Dec 2017]

Following the very public request for assistance to save collections marked for removal from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, this Nature Editorial discuses how regional hubs may offer lifelines to natural history collections facing dire straits.

[12 Apr 2017]

The University of Louisiana at Monroe is the most recent example of budget cuts leading to the divesting of collections. Several news outlets covered this announcement this week, Inside Higher Ed's story covers the original post and responses from the administration.

[31 Mar 2017]
Principles promote access to Federal government-supported scientific data and research findings for international scientific cooperation

This article is a reprint of an original article posted on the White House blog, 6 January 2017. The original post can be found here.(link is external)

Openly accessible scientific data can be a powerful catalyst in international scientific collaboration. To inform and improve consistency among Federal departments and agencies on open scientific data sharing in support of international scientific cooperation, the Interagency Working Group on Open Data Sharing Policy released a report describing Principles for Promoting Access to Federal Government-Supported Scientific Data and Research Findings Through International Scientific Cooperation.  The working group, which reports to the Subcommittee on International Issues established under the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Science, includes representatives from Federal science agencies involved in international scientific collaboration. The principles demonstrate the United States’ commitment to increasing access to unclassified scientific data generated by Federal agencies or resulting from Federally funded research (“government-supported scientific data”) to further international cooperation in science and technology to address global challenges.

The principles apply to government-supported scientific data, which can include primary data (e.g., observations and measurements) and derived data (resulting from computations performed on the primary data), together with accompanying metadata that exist in digital form. The principles also summarize how U.S. policies apply to publications that result from Federally funded scientific research. As appropriate, the seven principles are summarized below:

  1. Scientific progress and collaboration benefit from an early and continuing commitment to the establishment, description, curation, maintenance, validation, discoverability, accessibility, and distribution of scientific data.
  2. Scientific data should be openly accessible to the extent permitted by law and subject to privacy, confidentiality, security, and other appropriate restrictions (e.g., recognizing proprietary interests, business confidential information, and intellectual property rights).
  3. Government-supported scientific data should be available without charge whenever feasible.
  4. Partners in international science and technology cooperative activities should establish a data management plan at project initiation that considers the full data lifecycle for scientific data.
  5. Federal agencies should encourage technical and legal interoperability to facilitate international sharing of scientific data, using compatible, publicly available and open source formats.
  6. Government-supported scientific data (and publications) should be made openly available as early as possible, with the timing of release and the duration of any exclusive-use period explicitly defined.
  7. Federal agencies should work with international science and technology partners to adopt policies and data standards that encourage open sharing of data for collaborative activities.

While these principles do not establish new policy positions, they summarize principles that are articulated in recent policy documents, including: Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Open Government Directive; Executive Order 13642: Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information; OMB Memorandum on Open Data Policy–Managing Information as an Asset (M-13-13); OMB Circular A-130; OSTP Memorandum on Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research; and U.S. Open Data Action Plan. They are written to be consistent with existing requirements for protecting national security, privacy, confidentiality, and other appropriate restrictions.

In addition, the principles reinforces data sharing conventions adopted by the broader international scientific community including, the G8 Open Data Charter; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data from Public Funding; and the Group on Earth Observation System of Systems Data Sharing Principles.

These principles come at an opportune time. The U.S. science agencies are actively implementing public access policies to increase access to digital data and scholarly publications resulting from funded research. And in December 2016, the Open Government Partnership meeting held a global summit in Paris that featured a session led by the United States and other governments as well as civil society advocates to discuss progress in access to scientific and educational resources. Several international organizations are examining policies and practices for scientific data sharing, following high-level statements in support of open science from the G7G20, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). A newly established G7 Open Science Working Group met in early November to begin developing an action plan for open science that may address issues of human resources, infrastructure, and incentive structures for improved data sharing among scientists. The OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy is preparing to launch a series of studies over the next two years that will assess the policy implications of the digitization of science, technology, and innovation. 

Increasing access to scientific data and research findings generated by Federal agencies or resulting from Federally funded research remains a U.S. policy priority.  Science stands to benefit greatly from optimal, international exchanges of data, information, and knowledge. Federal departments and agencies are encouraged to rely on the principles issued today when promoting U.S. policies for open scientific data, scientific data sharing, and increased access to scientific data in the context of U.S. international science and technology cooperation and other international fora. 


Mahlet Mesfin is Assistant Director for International Science and Technology for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Jerry Sheehan is Assistant Director for Scientific Data and Information for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Mark Paese is Deputy Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and served as co-chair of the Interagency Working Group on Open Data Sharing Policy.

[06 Jan 2017]