VOLUME 14 NUMBER 3
SUMMER 2013

"No One Likes Paying for the Same Thing Twice."

New Federal grant requirements are coming.

This spring our Federal government took two important, coordinated steps toward universal open access to federally-funded research.

First came the introduction of a bipartisan bill - in both the House and Senate, called the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR). The acronym evokes the frustrations of many whose research is held up for years in the publication process and then is surrounded by pay walls that block dissemination of knowledge and ideas to taxpayers who paid for the original research.

FASTR is similar to FRPAA, a bill introduced three times in Congress but never taken to a vote. FASTR is FRPAA's stronger brother. It builds on the successful mandate adopted by the NIH a few years ago. It extends the policy across all Federal agencies that spend more than $100 million in grant funding to support research. It requires that, as a condition of the grant, any scholarly articles published on the basis of the research be deposited in an open access repository within 6 months (shorter than the year that NIH allowed).

FASTR gives agencies one year from passage to come up with policies that meet the guidelines laid out in the bill. The bill calls for the affected agencies to develop coordinated policies, which should both reduce the burdens and increase the incidence of compliance.

Two important characteristics of the bill are that, unlike recommendations recently made in the UK, authors are not required to publish in Open Access journals - they can publish anywhere, but must deposit in an open access repository. Additionally, the articles must be included on terms that allow for re-use; the versions deposited in repositories and made OA shall be distributed "in formats and under terms that enable productive reuse, including computational analysis by state-of-the-art technologies."

Ten U.S. library associations, publishers and public interest groups supported the bill via an open letter to one of the sponsors. They stated:

Timely, barrier-free access to the results of federally funded research is an essential component of our collective investment in science. We fully agree that this information should be shared in cost-effective ways that take advantage of newly available technologies - especially computational technologies such as text and data mining. The increased sharing and use of this information will help to advance the pace of discovery, as well as to speed the translation of this knowledge into innovative new services and products - fueling economic growth, and helping to create jobs.

Their emphasis on the economic benefits brings us to the second, related action from the Executive branch. In November 2011, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a Request for Information on the issues of access to publically funded digital data and scholarly publications. The request was part of the government response to the America COMPETES Act, signed in 2010. All told, nearly 500 comments were received from organizations and individuals representing a wide variety of fields and stakeholders including scientists, publishers, librarians, scientific societies and companies. Boston College University Libraries submitted comments.

In response to the opinions expressed, one week after FASTR was introduced the OSTP issued its own directive to the same group of Federal agencies affected by FASTR, requiring them to:

develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government. This includes any results published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications that are based on research that directly arises from Federal funds... It is preferred that agencies work together, where appropriate, to develop these plans.

Agencies are given 6 months from the date of the directive to develop the plans. No action is required by Congress for this to take effect - the agencies must develop plans to share this research by 6 months from the date of the directive. The directive includes not only scientific peer reviewed publications but also research data.

So - do we still need FASTR to pass? Yes. The OSTP directive is an executive branch action. It could be wiped out by the next administration.

However, Peter Suber, of the Harvard Open Access Project, evaluates the importance of the directive:

The directive is big in its own right, and even bigger when put together with FASTR. It means that the executive branch is joining the legislative branch in trying to assure OA to federally-funded research. We haven't had that before. Convergent effort from two branches of government is a sign that the tide has turned on US public policy.

The directive is also important because it's an action. While we debate FASTR, the White House directive is already taking effect. It's not a mere proposal. By next summer all of the largest federal funding agencies will have draft OA policies ready for review and implementation. This is seriously good for researchers, good for taxpayers, and good for everyone who depends on research for new medicines, useful technologies, or effective public policies.

Like FASTR, the directive would mandate deposit and access through a repository, rather than through OA Journals, but the directive would allow a 12 month embargo period, longer than the 6 months FASTR allows.

"In short, the directive has the advantages of certainty and speed, and FASTR, if passed, would have the advantage of permanence or longevity." (Suber)

In a recent opinion piece, Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner succinctly expressed why it is time to provide public access to research:

No one likes paying for the same thing twice. This holds true for federally funded scientific research. For years, scholarly journals have relied on taxpayers paying for research on the front end and access to the results on the back. It is past time to embrace an open access policy for scientific research.

In fiscal year 2012, Washington spent nearly $139 billion of taxpayer money on federal research and development activities — a significant investment in the age of record deficits, growing debt and an ill-advised sequester. But despite substantial spending on research, American taxpayers do not have adequate access to the results of their investment.

We can't know if FASTR will pass, but taken together with the OSTP directive, there is strong and unprecedented bipartisan support for opening Federally funded research. Regardless of the passage or defeat of FASTR, agencies will need to develop policies by late August requiring grantees to make their funded research output public.

Boston College grant recipients will need to be aware of these developments and ready to comply.

The Boston College Libraries are watching the situation closely and will continue to help faculty with compliance in any way we can, from navigating the regulations and crafting data management plans to hosting scholarly output in eScholarship@BC.

Jane Morris
Scholarly Communications Librarian