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Increasing Access to Federally Funded Scientific Research: Initiatives from the White House and the Congress

A new bill mandating Open Access to federally-funded research was just introduced into both houses of Congress.  Entitled the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research ACT (FASTR), it was introduced on February 14, 2013 in the Senate (S. 350) by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and in the House (H.R. 708) by Mike Doyle (D-PA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Kevin Yoder (R-KS). 

FASTR is a strengthened version of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA). (See this EDUCAUSE blog for further information.)  The FRPAA legislation was introduced in three earlier sessions of Congress since 2006; all previous versions failed to make it to a vote.  Both FRPAA and FASTR would essentially strengthen the open access (OA) mandate at the NIH, by shortening the maximum embargo to six months, and then extend this policy across the federal government.  FASTR goes one step further by requiring libre OA, not merely gratis OA.  Libre access is free of charge as well as free for some kinds of further use and reuse (e.g., think of the various Creative Commons licenses).  Gratis access is compatible with an “all rights reserved” copyright, which allows fair use only.

If enacted, FASTR would:

  • Require federal departments and agencies with an annual extramural research budget of $100 million to develop a policy to ensure researchers submit an electronic copy of the final manuscript accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Ensure that the manuscript is preserved in a stable digital repository maintained by that agency or in another suitable repository that permits free public access, interoperability, and long-term preservation.
  • Require that each taxpayer-funded manuscript be made available to the public online and without cost, no later than six months after the article has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Require agencies to examine whether introducing open licensing options for research papers they make publicly available as a result of the public access policy would promote productive reuse and computational analysis of those research papers.

This legislation would advance and expand the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Public Access Policy that was enacted in 2008, which requires public access to taxpayer-funded research done by eleven federal agencies via PubMed Central. The ability to search and access the archives of non-classified research of these agencies would provide open online access to research.  

On February 22, 2013, White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy released a Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on this topic.  The memo, Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research, is the Obama Administration’s response to last year’s We the People petition.  It states that new taxpayer-funded research must be made available to the public free of charge within a year of its publication, it applies to federal agencies that spend more than $100-million a year to support research and development, and agencies have six months to decide how to implement the policy.

The White House directive adds fifteen new agencies to the OA initiative, including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the Department of Transportation, the United States Agency for International Development, the Smithsonian, the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Interior.

It is not clear how the new policy would affect the prospects for passage of FASTR.  One of FASTR’s sponsors, Rep. Doyle, said in a news release that the policy reflected the legislation's goals and that he would work to have it enacted this year. He said, At a time when many public universities and libraries nationwide must deal with severe budget cuts, this White House decision reflects a recognition that we must extend the reach of our taxpayer dollars to ensure that our students get a better education.”

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this issue.

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