Legislation would require agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research to make the published papers they fund free within a year.

Legislation would require agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research to make the published papers they fund free within a year.

Tobias von der Haar/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Senate panel approves public access bill

Open-access advocates are heralding a Senate panel’s approval today of a bill that would require U.S. science agencies to make the peer-reviewed research papers they fund freely available to the public. Although a similar White House policy is already in place, supporters say the bipartisan measure—if approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president—would ensure the requirement stands through future administrations.

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act, approved by unanimous voice vote by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, requires that agencies that spend at least $100 million a year on research make the peer-reviewed manuscripts they fund freely available within 12 months of when the paper appears in a journal. That’s consistent with a 7-year-old policy at the National Institutes of Health and a directive to all U.S. research agencies that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued in February 2013. Agencies have begun steps to comply with the OSTP order.

The original version of FASTR would have moved the embargo up to 6 months, but a last-minute amendment changed that to 12 months. Lawmakers wanted to make the bill consistent with OSTP’s directive and satisfy university groups and scientific societies that oppose a 6-month embargo, writes Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a lobbying group that represents libraries. Many societies that publish journals worry that making papers freely available too soon will lead subscribers to cancel their subscriptions.

Although it’s simply codifying the White House policy, the FASTR bill—the first governmentwide public access bill to make it out of a committee—is important to ensure that the policy stays in place once the Obama administration leaves office, SPARC says. The bill heads next to the full Senate for a vote. FASTR has also been introduced in the House of Representatives, and Joseph hopes the responsible House committee will take action now that the bill is moving in the Senate. 

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