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U.S. Geological Survey Manual

U.S. Geological Survey Instructional Memorandum

No: IM OSQI 2015-03

Issuance Date: February 19, 2015

Expiration Date:  Retain Until Suspended

 Review and Approval of Scientific Data for Release

1.  Purpose and Scope.  This Instructional Memorandum (IM) provides interim requirements and procedures for review and approval of scientific data prior to release or dissemination.  The IM applies to all U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientific data that are released to the public (including, but not limited to, data that are made available in datasets, databases, data services, and publications, as well as model outputs and derived products.  The IM replaces the part of Survey Manual (SM) chapter SM 500.24 - Policy for Release of Computer Databases and Computer Programs, dated April 9, 1993, that addresses Computer Databases.  The part of SM 500.24 that addresses Computer Programs will be addressed separately.  This IM is interim policy to allow the time needed for USGS science activities to fully implement the data release requirements herein and it will be retained until superseded by a permanent Survey Manual (SM) policy chapter.

2.  Background.  Scientific data created by or on behalf of the USGS are the property of the Federal Government.  USGS scientific data are made available publicly and free of restrictions, except in rare cases where access must be restricted because of security, privacy, confidentiality, or other constraints.  It is the policy of the USGS to provide timely public access to scientific data, information, and technologies developed by the Bureau’s information and research programs.  The May 9, 2013, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memorandum on “Open Data Policy—Managing Data as an Asset,” requires agencies to collect or create information in a way that supports downstream information processing and dissemination activities.  This includes using machine readable and open formats, data standards, and common core and extensible metadata for all new information creation and collection efforts.  The February 22, 2013, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum on “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research,” requires public access to digital datasets resulting from federally funded research, including datasets used to support scholarly publications.   

3.  Definitions.  The following definitions pertain to USGS scientific data:

A.  Data.  Observations or measurements (unprocessed or processed) represented as text, numbers, or multimedia. 

B.  Dataset.  A structured collection of data. 

C.  Database.  Datasets and other items stored together to serve one or more purposes or applications, often including data query or search and retrieval capabilities. 

D.  Data Service.  An online capability that allows direct interaction between data and software. 

E.  Provisional Data.  Those data (such as real-time data, preliminary measurements) that are subject to revision, and may be released prior to approval to meet an immediate need (refer to SM 502.5, section 6). 

F.  Approved Data.  Those data that have USGS approval for release pursuant to this chapter and SM 205.18

4.  Policy. 

A.  USGS releases both provisional and approved scientific data.  Until they are approved for release, scientific data are provisional or preliminary and subject to change.  Scientific data described herein, when released, are considered a USGS information product (SM 1100.1) and must comply with the appropriate USGS Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) requirements described herein, as well as in other underlying policy (for example, SM 502.4).

B.  Approved scientific data must comply with the metadata requirements (refer to IM OSQI 2015-02 - Metadata for Scientific Data, Software, and Other Information Products), and the metadata must accompany the data when released.

C.  Reviews of scientific data and associated metadata are required before data are approved (see section 5 below). 

D.  Approved scientific data must be assigned a persistent identifier, specifically a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) from the USGS registration agent, and be accompanied by a recommended citation (refer to

E.  All USGS scientific data must be released with a provisional (preliminary) or approved disclaimer statement.   Where applicable other disclaimer statements such as those regarding non-endorsement of commercial products or use of copyrighted material should be included.  Disclaimers statements to be used are available at the USGS FSP Web site (refer to

F.  Scientific data released by the USGS must be managed and distributed through a data system that can ensure the long-term preservation, discoverability, accessibility, and usability of the resource. 

G.  The procedures and guidance information that support this IM are available at the Data Management Web site (

5.  Review and Approval of Scientific Data.  Scientific data intended for public release are subject to USGS FSP review, approval, and release requirements described below and in SM 502.4 as applicable.  Individual USGS organizational units may establish additional requirements and procedures (refer to SM 502.2). 

A.  A minimum of two reviews are required for approval that include one data review and one metadata review.  These reviews must be documented in the internal USGS Information Product Data System (IPDS).  The metadata review ensures that the requirements of IM OSQI 2015-02 are met.  Unlike peer review (SM 502.3), which establishes the veracity of the scientific interpretation, data review involves checking that the data meet standards for quality and completeness and requires the reviewer to have specialized scientific knowledge of the particular type of data being reviewed (refer to Data Management Web site,  Refer to the data checklist and the metadata checklist for additional guidance on conducting the data and metadata reviews. 

B.  As stated above, scientific data when approved for release are USGS information products.  Scientific data may be approved for release by Science Center Directors or their designees if the data information products contain no new interpretive content and are based on existing published methods.  New interpretive information products, including data that are considered interpretive, must be approved for release by Bureau Approving Officials in the USGS Office of Science Quality and Integrity (SM 205.18).  Examples of interpretive USGS information products, including what qualifies as interpretive data, are available at

C.  A peer-reviewed publication documenting collection and processing methods may also be required (SM 502.2).  New interpretive content supporting the creation and/or interpretation of data must be released in a peer reviewed publication such as USGS series or outside publication (i.e., journal articles, cooperator publications, and so on).

6Releasing Scientific Data Through Online Databases or Web Services.  When data approved for release and provisional data are released through online databases, Web services and other automated methods of data release, the following apply:

A.  At the online location where the data are released, documentation must be provided to inform the user of the purpose of the service or method, including extent, content, restrictions or terms of use, and instructions for use.  For example, documentation could include methods used to structure and assemble the data and use the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).  The documentation and procedures are reviewed as part of the approval process for the database or online service. 

B.  Maintenance and oversight of the online database, Web service, or automated method will be performed under the direction of an assigned manager who oversees the process that ensures the quality of data added to the database or service, routine data reviews, and documentation of methods and procedures. 

7.  Responsibilities.  All those involved in any phase of the scientific data release process, including data producers, managers, and reviewers, are responsible for complying with this policy.  In addition, specific responsibilities include:

A.  Associate Directors and Regional Directors.  Associate Directors (ADs) and Regional Directors (RDs) coordinate with Science Center Directors to ensure appropriate stewardship of the data produced in their respective mission and regional areas. 

B.  Office of Science Quality and Integrity and Core Science Systems.  The Office of Science Quality and Integrity (OSQI) and Core Science Systems (CSS) are responsible for jointly developing USGS data release policy and collaborating on the development of related guidance and procedures.  The OSQI and CSS coordinate with the ADs, RDs and other USGS mission area and office staff to provide advice, procedures, and guidance regarding processes for data review, approval, and release.  The OSQI is responsible for communicating and maintaining the policy documents related to scientific data release.  The CSS is responsible for maintaining data release related guidance found on the Data Management Website (

C.  Science Center Directors, Managers, Supervisors, and Authors.  Science Center Directors, managers (i.e., project and program), supervisors, and authors of data consult and work with each other, OSQI and CSS managers, and approving officials, as needed during the processes of review, approval, and release of scientific data.  Science Center Directors and managers collaborate with their mission area ADs and RDs as necessary to assign or ensure the assigning or designating of data managers to steward the scientific data produced in their respective offices and centers.

D.  Data Managers.  Data managers, as the assigned or designated individuals, teams, or organizations are responsible for stewarding scientific data through the release process.  They collaborate with their mission area Science Center Directors, managers, supervisors, and scientists in the conduct of their data stewardship activities. 

E.  Approving Officials.  Approving officials, including Science Center Directors (or their designees) and Bureau Approving Officials in the OSQI, collaborate with authors, mission area managers, and others as needed regarding review and approval of scientific data.  They have latitude in determining what is needed to uphold USGS standards for data quality, including ensuring the necessary reviews are obtained and the method of release is appropriate.



/s/ Alan D. Thornhill                                                                 February 19, 2015

_____________________________________________                  ______________
Alan D. Thornhill                                                                                       Date
Director, Office of Science Quality and Integrity

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