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Open-Access Provision Tucked Into Omnibus Spending Bill

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Tucked away in a small section of the massive omnibus budget bill that bounced around Capitol Hill this week, as members of the House and Senate fought over funding for wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, is a very brief paragraph that would require research findings from studies funded by the National Institutes of Health to be made publicly available within a year.
The language of the law is summed up in only about 70 words of the roughly 1,400 page fiscal spending bill, which folds together the 2008 budgets for much of the US Federal Government, and is little more than an afterthought politically as the White House scans the bill for places to trim what it has termed “irresponsible” spending.
While the debates in Washington this week have been about war funding, fiscal discipline, and taxes, for academics and other scientists looking to keep abreast of federally funded biomedical research, and for the publishers of academic journals, this little mandate may hit closest to home.
The law states that NIH-funded investigators submit electronic versions of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central so that the studies may be made publicly available no later than twelve months after publication.
The legislation has been revived several times. It was introduced in 2006 by Senator John Cornyn (R - Tex.) and by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), and it has received strong support from interest groups, academics, and those lobbying for greater openness for tax-funded enterprises. But it has been opposed by groups representing the publishers of academic journals.
The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 originally went farther than the current law would, as it aimed to make all taxpayer-funded research from agencies spending over $100 million that is not stamped classified available to the public. Another bill, which was focused on the NIH, had a six-month deadline for public availability.
The added six months in the new legislation was meant to be an accommodation to the publishing industry, which had fought the legislation.
But the new waiting period of up to one year is consistent with current NIH policy, which encourages researchers to deposit their articles with PubMed no later than twelve months after publication.
“The public is entitled to fast and free access to the scientific articles reporting on the results of research conducted using public funds,” Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, wrote in an e-mail interview with GenomeWeb Daily News.
Public access increases the usage of research publications, Joseph added, which in turn “accelerates the return on the public's investment in research — by stimulating further discovery and innovation, and advancing the translation of this knowledge into direct public benefits.”
President Bush said yesterday he has asked his budget director, Jim Nussle, to review the omnibus bill to look for areas where spending can be trimmed. That hunt for cost cuts may not have any effect on the open-access law, as the bill does not budget any specific funds to support the legislation.
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