Federally Funded Research on Demand

On February 22, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum to government agencies telling them to develop policies to make the findings of federally-funded research more accessible to the American public. With the age of the internet, public access to information has become more widespread, and low-cost distribution technology has fueled the open access movement. “Open access” is a means of providing unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles, which historically are proprietary information that information seekers either must subscribe to or purchase by article. The new policy applies to any agency with an R&D portfolio of over $100 million. Agencies like the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation will have six months to develop plans for implementing the policy.

While the new policy promotes far greater access to the results of federally-funded research, OSTP acknowledged “that publishers provide valuable services, including the coordination of peer review, that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications.” The policy calls for each agency to “”use a twelve-month publication embargo period as a guidance for making research papers publicly available….” Recognizing that different scientific disciplines have different needs, the policy also provides a “mechanism for stakeholders to petition for changing the embargo period for a specific field by presenting evidence demonstrating that the plan would be inconsistent with the objectives” of the new policy.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) endorsed the policy shortly after it was made public. According to AAP President and CEO Tom Allen,” … the OSTP takes a fair path that would enhance access for the public, acknowledge differences among agencies and scientific disciplines and recognize the critical role publishers play in vetting, producing, establishing and preserving the integrity of scientific works.”

Publishers were also encouraged by the policy’s emphasis on public-private collaboration, particularly in the development of repositories at each agency. For several years, publishers have been partnering with specific agencies on innovative and cost-effective ways for making research results easily accessible and searchable by the general public.

In a related development, on February 14, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) was introduced in both the House and Senate. FASTR would mandate the public release of journal articles and other taxpayer-funded research within six months of publication. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Senate version, S. 350, and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) introduced the House version, H.R. 708, with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) signing on as cosponsors.

As agencies begin to implement the OSTP policy, it remains unclear if either the House or Senate will take up FASTR or any similar legislation addressing open access.

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