Open access proponents are celebrating an announcement by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy last Friday. The directive requires Federal agencies expending over $100 million per year on research and development to write “clear and coordinated” public access policies. These policies will ensure that published research findings and digital scientific data will be freely available to the public, whose tax dollars were used to underwrite this research, within 12 months of publication. The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health & Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and the National Science Foundation are agencies meeting the research expenditure criterion.
This announcement follows closely on the heels of a bill introduced in Congress on February 14 for the same purpose–to require barrier-free access to peer-reviewed manuscripts or research publications funded by the Federal government. The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act is this year’s version of last year’s Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) introduced in Congress. Although similar to FRPAA, FASTR specifically mentions “productive reuse” and analysis of research papers and data. The act posits that papers must be deposited in an unspecified digital repository within 6 months of first publication.
What does this mean to the average citizen? Well, the most obvious benefit is the online availability (albeit not immediate) of research findings and data that may make a difference to one’s health, business, education, and personal research. Perhaps more obscure benefits are scientific accountability and funding transparency.
The Association of American Publishers (interestingly in favor of the directive but opposed to the bill) claims the publishing industry is already successfully performing the tasks outlined in the FASTR Act. AAP language, such as, this bill would “require federal agencies to undertake extensive, open-ended work” and “waste so much of the taxpayers’ money at a time of budget crisis,” is intended to scare us away from legislation that forces the private sector to rein in unreasonable profits for subscription journal access. Profits at the expense of taxpayers who may also be researchers. I wonder if the content in the digital repositories AAP claims to have in place and functioning effectively is freely accessible to American citizens?
Although it’s gratifying to see that the White House continues to favor open access initiatives through a policy approach, let’s hope FASTR doesn’t languish in committee this year, and there is an actual vote, one way or the other. Legislation ensures a measure of continuity that a directive, like a President, doesn’t enjoy.