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Advocates Nudge Obama to Expand Open Access without Congress

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Advocates who support greater public access to federally-funded research have begun pressing the White House to take action soon to make the results of nearly all taxpayer-funded research publicly available by adopting a government-wide policy resembling one already in place at the National Institutes of Health.

Through a new petition posted on the White House website, open access supporters are asking the Obama Administration to "act now to implement open-access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research."

The petition currently has over 15,000 signatures, and if it hits 25,000 by June 19 it will be reviewed by the White House, Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, told GenomeWeb Daily News in an e-mail Thursday.

The petition aims to get the Obama Administration to bypass Congress, which would generally be responsible for approving such a policy shift, and use an executive order to require that the published results of taxpayer-funded research also be published on the internet. The effort is supported by a range of researchers, patient advocate groups, universities, libraries, and others, according to SPARC.

Genetic Alliance President and CEO Sharon Terry has put out a call asking others to sign the petition, stating that the White House is currently considering which priorities it will act on before the November election, and that the coming months provide "a brief, critical window of opportunity to demonstrate our strong commitment" to expanding an NIH-like policy across the government.

Joseph said that the board of Wikimedia will endorse the petition and plans to post a blog statement Friday on Wikipedia supporting the open-access policy.

SPARC said this week that the NIH's Pubic Access Policy has been "highly successful" and has shown that such a change will not disrupt the research process.

The NIH public-access policy, which has been in place since 2008, requires that all NIH-funded investigators submit an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts to PubMed Central within 12 months after official publication.

It is likely that the experience gleaned by NIH through its access policy will help the White House make judgments and decisions about broader government public-access measures, Rick Weiss, assistant director for strategic communications and a technology policy analyst at OSTP, told GWDN today.

Weiss could not elaborate on how far along internal Obama Administration plans for open access may be at this time, or on the possibility that it may issue an executive order mandating a public-access policy, but he explained that a process of seeking out and assessing information on these policies and on public and industry attitudes about them has been ongoing since the administration's early days.

Part of that process has been completed with the White House's National Science and Technology Council issuing a report in March on the dissemination and stewardship of federally funded research, and an interagency task force has been formed to focus on public access to scholarly publications.

The administration also has put out requests for information in 2009 and in 2011 seeking input on public-access policies. The latter of those was mandated under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, and the NSTC report was released to serve as an update on that process.

If the NSTC report is used to help guide administration policy, it would likely be welcome news for open-access supporters, as it appears to show that the research community and the public could benefit from enhanced public access and that the scholarly publishing business would not be harmed in the process.

"This policy, and its subsequent fine tuning, has led to a dramatic increase in the number of NIH papers posted to PMC. Since 2008, NIH has been able to collect over 260,000 papers under the policy. Overall, the compliance rate stands at 75 percent and continues to edge upward," the NSTC concluded, adding that the success was due to the compliance of both investigators and publishers.

"In the same time span, the average price of biology journals and health sciences journals increased 26 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Further, the International Association of STM Publishers announced an independent forecast of increases in the growth rate of the medical journal market in the coming years, from 4.5 percent in 2011 to 6.3 percent in 2014," the NSTC report stated.

Around 10 percent of the 2.4 million total articles hosted on PMC have been collected under the NIH policy, and around 500,000 users visit the database every weekday, with around 40 percent of those visits coming from the general public, 25 percent from universities, and 17 percent from companies.

Even if the White House does not make any moves on public access before the election, there are identical bills in both houses of Congress that propose implementing a sweeping new public-access policy across the government.

The Federal Research Public Access Act, which has bipartisan sponsors in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, would require that research funded by federal departments and agencies with annual extramural budgets of $100 million or more be submitted after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The bills require that manuscripts be submitted within six months of publication for storage in an accessible repository that would be publicly available online.

A new law, which would have to be passed by Congress, would be more durable and stable than an executive order, Joseph said, as the latter "can be reversed with a stroke of another presidential pen, so we would still continue to push for FRPAA to codify any executive action into permanent law."

However, she said, a presidential order could have the same results as FRPAA, providing "the impetus for agencies to implement public access policies.

"It also would provide an important signal that the administration, at the Executive Branch level, considers this a high-priority issue," she said.

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