Department of Health and Human Services

Congress passes spending bill requiring free access to publicly funded research

Timothy Vollmer, January 16th, 2014

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Update: The bill was signed by President Obama January 17, 2014.

Both the U.S. House of Representative and Senate have passed the 2014 omnibus appropriations legislation (2.9 MB PDF). President Obama is expected to sign the bill shortly.

What’s so special about this legislation? Federal agencies with research budgets of at least $100 million per year will be required provide the public with free online access to scholarly articles generated with federal funds no later than 12 months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The agencies affected by the public access provision of the appropriations bill include the Department of Labor, Department of Education, and Department of Health and Human Services (which includes research-intensive sub-agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

According to SPARC, the bill “ensure[s] that $31 billion of the total $60 billion annual U.S. investment in taxpayer-funded research is now openly accessible.”

The inclusion of the public access provision builds upon existing initiatives, such as the NIH Public Access Policy. And it echoes the more recent push for public access to publicly funded research advocated through the introduction of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) and the White House directive. But with FASTR tabled in Congress last year and the federal agencies dragging their feet on complying with Obama’s public access directive (plans were due in August 2013), the passage of the 2014 spending legislation is a welcome measure for increasing access to publicly funded research.

SPARC thinks the language in the bill could be strengthened by adopting a shorter embargo period (e.g. six months), which would benefit the public without harming journal publishers. In addition, they suggest that research articles be shared via a central repository similar to PubMed Central and incorporate provisions to ensure the ability to conduct text and data mining on the entire corpus of federally-funded articles. Creative Commons and other groups have also communicated the need for not only free public access, but also access whereby publicly funded research is made available under open licenses.

Open Access icon was created by Duke Innovation Co-Lab and in the public domain.
U.S. Department of Education seal is in the public domain.
U.S. Department of Labor seal is in the public domain.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seal is in the public domain.

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