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Cross-Government Open Access Bills Introduced in House and Senate

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Members of both houses of Congress this week introduced identical bills that would expand public access policies for research funded by taxpayers, such as the one in place at the National Institutes of Health, to include all the major science-funding agencies.

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.

"Americans have the right to see the results of research funded with taxpayer dollars," Congressman Mike Doyle (D – Penn.), a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement yesterday introducing FRPAA. "Yet such research too often gets locked away behind a pay-wall, forcing those who want to learn from it to pay expensive subscription fees for access."

Doyle said that FRPAA would "encourage broader collaboration among scholars in the scientific community by permitting widespread dissemination of research findings. Promoting greater collaboration will inevitably lead to more innovative research outcomes and more effective solutions in the fields of biomedicine, energy, education, and health care."

"Fast and open access is essential for the translation of research data and publications into healthcare advances in the current mega-data age," Stephen Friend, president and co-founder of Sage Bionetworks, said in a statement from the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, an organization that advocates on behalf of public access policies.

The new policy would affect a number of major federal departments including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and others.

ATA said that the bill would "enhance the return on the taxpayer's investment by enabling the use and application of research by scientists and other taxpayers," and it would make new research available swiftly to doctors, educators, businesses, and the public. "Facilitating this kind of broad and often unpredictable use of information will have direct and positive results on discovery and innovation," ATA stated on its website.

The bill provides for flexibility among departments for where they will house their repositories, but the National Institutes of Health's PubMed Central at the National Library of Medicine often is held up as the best example of such a resource.

Heather Joseph, executive director of the pro-open-access Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition told GenomeWeb Daily News in an e-mail today that this FRPAA bill is largely the same as earlier incarnations of this policy in past Congresses.

"What's striking this time is the coordination between the House and the Senate, with the simultaneous introduction of identical bills, both with strong bipartisan support — awfully nice to see this kind of unified support for public access, especially in the current political climate," Joseph told GWDN.

The FRPAA bills landed in Congress about six weeks after a bill arrived in the House that would prevent federal agencies from requiring open-access publishing, while overturning the NIH policy that has been in place since 2008.

That measure, the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699), would counter the open-access movement specifically by keeping federal agencies from permitting or requiring "network dissemination" of any "private-sector research work" without consent of the publisher.

The term "private-sector research work" in that bill refers to articles published in scientific and scholarly journals "describing or interpreting research funded in whole or in part by a federal agency and to which a commercial or nonprofit publisher has made or has entered into an arrangement to make a value-added contribution, including peer review or editing."

The term "network dissemination," refers to publication via the Internet, a definition that encompasses NIH's policy.

That bill has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is chaired by the bill's cosponsor, Rep. Darrell Issa (R – Calif.).

Meanwhile, advocates representing research, public health, and academic organizations this week have begun pushing back against the Research Works Act with a letter asking members of the Oversight and Government Reform committee to oppose the bill.

The group — which includes the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, Health Action International, Doctors without Borders, and the American Medical Student Association, among others — said that by prohibiting the open-access mandate, the Research Works Act "will significantly inhibit the ability to advance scientific discoveries and stimulate innovation in all scientific disciplines.

"The bill will prevent public health groups, patients, researchers, and physicians from accessing the results of crucial biomedical research. It will also impact the creation of knowledge and information as well as the dissemination and sharing of critical advancements in life-saving research and scientific discovery," the group wrote in its letter to Rep. Issa and members of the committee.

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