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The Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections (IWGSC) was established by the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) in 2006 and currently operates as a subcommittee under the Committee on Science and Technology Enterprise, established in July 2018. IWGSC is co-chaired by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Smithsonian and originally reported to the NSTC Committee on Science. IWGSC’s mission was to assess the status and needs of the scientific collections owned, managed, and/or supported by the U.S. Federal Government, and to recommend ways to improve their management, effectiveness and impact.

Over the past ten years, IWGSC has conducted a survey of object-based scientific collections owned by the Federal Government in 2007-2008 and issued a 2009 report with seven recommendations. NSF conducted a parallel survey of the non-federal collections it supports through competitive grants and issued a report of findings. In 2010, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directed Departments and Agencies to implement three of the report’s recommendations and Section 104 of the America COMPETES Act renewal of 2010 incorporated these recommendations into law. The IWGSC is currently implementing the three recommendations which:

  • Formalize each Department’s and Agency’s policies toward scientific collections;
  • Establish appropriate budgeting guidelines and procedures that ensure proper stewardship for scientific collections, which are considered government assets; and
  • Create a public clearinghouse for information on the scientific collections that are owned, managed and supported by the Federal Government.

Scientific Collections

IWGSC interprets “scientific collections” to mean collections of physical objects that have been gathered for research and other purposes, and are set aside for long-term preservation because of their potential use and impact in the future. Documents and data that are connected directly to these objects are considered part of the collections (e.g., field notes, maps, photographs and digital images). The disciplines in which these collections are created and maintained are: anthropology, archaeology, biology, biomedicine, earth and space sciences, ethnology, and applied fields such as agriculture, environmental management, technology and veterinary science. Fields such as art, culture, and history (other than the history of science and technology) are not included. Archives that do not relate directly to objects of scientific study are also not included (e.g., libraries, galleries).

Access to Federal scientific collections and the data generated by their study is part of many open data initiatives. IWGSC was pleased to support the Interagency Working Group on Open Data Sharing Policy and its report on the principles for promoting access to Federal government-supported scientific data and research findings for international scientific cooperation

IWGSC is also working with the Global Biological Information Facility (GBIF) to provide global access to information about US Federal scientific collections via the Global Registry of Scientific Collections. This project raises the profile of the registry, started by IWGSC and its partners in 2016.

History of IWGSC

The milestones in the history of IWGSC activities are:

2005 - July FY 2007 OSTP-OMB Budget Priorities Memo that mentioned scientific collections
2006 - June NSTC approves IWGSC Charter
2006 - June Survey of federal collections initiated by the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI)
2007 - July STPI issued final survey compilation
2009 - January Release of the IWGSC Green Report
2009 - March NSF issues a report of its survey of collections
2010 - October OSTP Policy Memo calling for implementation of three recommendations in the IWGSC report
2011 - January The America COMPETES Act of 2010 Section 104 calls for implementation of three recommendations in the IWGSC Green report
2011 - November IWGSC Charter renewed, specifying implementation of three recommendations in the IWGSC Green Report
2013 - January IWGSC recommendations for high-level collections policies approved by NSTC Committee on Science
2014 - March OSTP Policy Memo calling on departments and agencies to develop draft collections policies within six months
2016 - May IWGSC Charter renewed
2018 - July IWGSC is moved under the new NSTC Committee on Science and Technology Enterprise
2020 - November Release of the IWGSC Economic Study Group Report
2023 - November Release of the IWGSC Blue Report


Since its creation, representatives of the following Federal Departments and Agencies have participated in IWGSC activities: 

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Interior
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of State
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • National Aeronautic and Space Administration
  • National Science Foundation
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • U.S. Agency for International Development
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) was established by Executive Order on November 23, 1993. This cabinet-level council is the principal means by which the President coordinates science, space, and technology policies across the Federal Government. NSTC coordinates diverse paths of the Federal research and development enterprise. An important objective of the NSTC is the establishment of clear national goals for Federal science and technology investments in areas ranging from information technologies and health research to improving transportation systems and strengthening fundamental research. The Council prepares research and development strategies that are coordinated across the Federal agencies to form a comprehensive investment package aimed at accomplishing multiple national goals.