Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy

by Carson Harrod on Monday, September 26, 2016

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy (see requires that peer-reviewed publications from investigators who are funded by NIH grants be made publicly available within one year after publication. The NIH has developed mechanisms and provided tools to investigators to verify compliance with the policy. This is the first in a series of articles that will describe the policy and how investigators can maintain compliance.

The NIH implemented the Public Access Policy in 2008 and made it permanent the following year. It states:

The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law. 

Compliance with the policy is mandatory for NIH-funded investigators. NIH guidance states that compliance with the Public Access Policy is not part of the scientific and technical review of a submitted grant application. Thus, non-compliance will not affect the scoring of the grant. However, if the grant is awarded, it will not be processed and funds will not be distributed until compliance is met. This hold applies to disbursement of funds for subsequent years of a grant from which publications arise that are not compliant. In 2013, the NIH introduced its Public Access Compliance Monitor (, making it possible for institutions to track the compliance of publications authored by their investigators (see notice NOT-OD-13-020). 

To what type of publications does the NIH Public Access Policy apply?

Not all publications are covered by the NIH Public Access Policy. It applies to any peer-reviewed manuscript that is accepted for publication in a journal on or after April 7, 2008. The manuscript must arise from direct funding from an NIH grant or cooperative agreement that was active in fiscal year 2008 or later, an NIH contract that was signed on or after April 7, 2008, or an NIH intramural program. It also applies to publications that are co-authored by NIH employees.

Current exceptions to the policy include books and book chapters, publications that are not peer-reviewed, and publications that are not in Latin characters. Additionally, an NIH notice from earlier this year (NOT-OD-16-079) exempts investigators from reporting publications for which their only contribution is resources that they shared, as long as they are not listed as authors on the publications.

What are the steps to demonstrate compliance?

When an investigator determines that a publication falls under the policy, the first step is to deposit the final approved version of the manuscript to the US National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central (PMC) website. This must be completed within 90 days of the publication date. As part of the deposition process, the date that the publication will then become public is selected and must be within one year of the publication date. There are four methods by which publications can be deposited to PubMed Central. The four methods of submission to PMC will be described in the next installment in this series.

Once a manuscript has been deposited in PubMed Central, it is assigned a temporary identification number until the PMC staff reviews and approves it. After approval, it is given a permanent identification number. These numbers indicate the status of the publication in the deposition process and are cited with the publication in biographical sketches, bibliographies and other components of grant applications and annual reporting.

Compliance: A Work in Progress

Compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy is an ongoing process for investigators and institutional administrators. Since the inception of the Public Access Policy, the NIH has continued to develop tools that improve the process of compliance. Future installments of this series will cover the different ways to deposit publications in PubMed Central, the unique identification numbers that are assigned to deposited publications, how to utilize the National Library of Medicine’s My NCBI website to build bibliographies and biographical sketches that are compliant with the Public Access Policy, and how to use these in grant applications and reporting.

Related Articles:
Part 2: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: The Submission Process 
Part 3: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: Properly Citing Manuscripts 
Part 4: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: My NCBI