May 22 Update: Section 303 was amended in the House Science Committee markup of the bill to replace the current language with the text similar to that of the Public Access to Public Science Act (H.R. 3157). See SPARC’s statement on the amendment.
On March 10, 2014, Representatives Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act of 2014 (FIRST Act). This legislation would impose significant barriers to the public’s ability to access to taxpayer funded research by restricting federal science agencies’ ability to provide timely, equitable, online access to articles and data reporting on the results of research that they support.
The FIRST Act is not in the best interests of the taxpayers who fund the research, the scientists who make use of it by accelerating scientific progress, the teachers and students who rely on its availability for a high-quality education, and the thousands of U.S. businesses, both small and large, which depend on public access to stay competitive in the global marketplace.
One provision of H.R. 4186 – Section 303 – would undercut federal agencies’ ability to effectively implement the widely-supported White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Directive on Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research, undermine the public access program pioneered by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and put the U.S. at a severe disadvantage among our global competitors.
Every year, the federal government funds more than $60 billion dollars in basic and applied research. Most of this funding is concentrated within 11 departments/agencies (e.g., National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and Department of Energy). This research results in a significant number of articles being published each year – more than 90,000 papers are published annually as result of NIH funding alone.
Because U.S. taxpayers underwrite this research, they have a right to expect that its dissemination and use will be maximized, and that they will have access to articles reporting on the results. The internet has revolutionized information sharing and has made it possible to make the latest advances freely available to every researcher, student, teacher, entrepreneur, business owner, and citizen so that the results can be read and built upon as efficiently as possible.
In February of 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a Directive on Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research, requiring the results of taxpayer-funded research — both articles and data — to be made available to the general public to freely access and fully use, with the goals of accelerating scientific discovery and fueling innovation.
Section 303 of the FIRST Act would undercut this widely-supported Directive, as well as the highly-successful NIH Public Access Policy, which has made hundreds of thousands of articles in the biomedical sciences available through PubMed Central in a timely manner. In effect, the FIRST Act will make it more difficult for researchers, students, entrepreneurs, and the public to access cutting research — stifling innovation and slowing the progress of science.
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Specifically, Section 303 of the FIRST Act would:
- Slow the pace of science by restricting public access to articles reporting on federally funded research for up to three years after initial publication. This stands in stark contrast to the policies in use around the world, which call for maximum embargo periods of no more than six to 12 months.
- Fail to support provisions that allow for shorter embargo periods to publicly funded research results and that take into account the potential harm to stakeholders that can accrue through unnecessarily long delays in being allowed access to the results of publicly funded research.
- Stifle researchers ability to share their own research and to access the works of others’, slowing progress towards scientific discoveries, medical breakthroughs, treatments, and cures.
- Make it harder for U.S. companies – especially small businesses and start-ups – to access cutting-edge research, thereby slowing their ability to innovate, create new products and services, and generate new jobs.
- Waste further time and taxpayer dollars by calling for a needless, additional 18-month delay for agencies to develop plans in consultation with the National Science and Technology Council. This is a duplication of federal agency work that was required by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Directive and has already been completed.
- Impose unnecessary costs on federal agency public access programs, and cause further delay, by conflating access and preservation policies as applied to articles and data. The legislation does not make clear what data must be made accessible, or where such data would reside. Requiring data to reside in the same repository as articles would severely limit the options for federal agencies.