Lawmakers Reintroduce Public Access Bill

Lawmakers yesterday introduced a proposal to make scientific papers funded with taxpayer money available for free on the Internet. The bill adds to a recent flurry of debate about so-called public access policies.

The Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), which has identical versions in the House of Representatives and the Senate, would expand to other research agencies the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) 4-year-old policy requiring investigators it funds to submit copies of their peer-reviewed manuscripts for posting in a public database. The bill would also set at 6 months the length of time an agency can wait to make the paper public after it appears in a journal (NIH's current policy is 12 months).

The bill's sponsors in the Senate are senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Kay Hutchison (R-TX); the House sponsors include representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA), Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Lacy Clay (D-MO). Matt Dinkel, communications director for Doyle, said no committees have yet planned hearings on the bill, which first needs to attract more cosponsors.

Supporters of FRPAA include a business group called the Committee for Economic Development, which this week released a report finding that the NIH policy "has substantially increased public access to research results with benefits ... that far outweigh the costs."

A dueling bill in the House championed by commercial publishers would scrap the NIH policy because, supporters say, it infringes on publishers' copyright and will put journals out of business. That bill—which, like FRPAA, has been introduced before—has sparked a boycott of scientific publishing giant Elsevier.

The White House science office, which last fall asked for input on public access, recently released nearly 400 public comments that reportedly reflect the familiar wide split between supporters and opponents of such policies.