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The State of Public Access in the United States

Today, I’m going to provide a brief update on federal initiatives targeted toward making federally funded research articles and data publicly accessible.

There have been four primary federal actions in the last 12-18 months addressing public access to federally funded research.

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act was introduced in both the House and the Senate in February 2013. FASTR is the successor to the Federal Research Public Access Act or FRPAA, which had been introduced in Congress in 2006, 2009 and 2012 but never came up for a vote.  Like FRPAA, FASTR applies to federal agencies who spend at least $100 million on extramural research, so it applies to agencies such as the Departments of Agriculture, Education and Transportation as well as the EPA and the National Science Foundation.  Also similarly, FASTR requires deposit of the final version of an author’s peer reviewed manuscript in an open access repository no later than 6 months after publication. Works by government employed researchers are to be available open access immediately. FASTR does include a few provisions that did not occur in the prior versions of FRPAA. First, FASTR contains a provision on coordinating agency policies. This requirement of coordination will serve to reduce the burden on universities that need to comply with procedures at more than one of the covered agencies. FASTR also includes a licensing and formatting provision to ensure that research results are machine readable and subject to computational analysis. Finally, FASTR requires agencies to include in annual reports a statement on whether the terms of use applicable to the deposited papers has been effective in enabling reuse and computational analysis.

A week after the introduction of FASTR, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a directive requiring agencies with over $100 million dollars in extramural research expenditures to make articles AND data publicly available no later than 12 months after publication.

Then, 11 months later, the government essentially codified into law the directive of the OSTP memo for the agencies of the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services and Education by requiring them through the 2014 spending bill to make research articles funded by those agencies publicly accessible within 12 months after publication.

Finally, in March of this year, a bill was introduced in the House entitled the Frontiers in Innovation, Research Science and Technology Act or FIRST and in section 303 of that bill public access to federally funded research articles is required no more than 24 months after publication, with agencies also being granted the option by policy to extend that embargo by an additional 12 months. The language of the act also mentions access to data within 60 days of the accompanying article’s publication but does not specify the mechanisms or parameters for accessibility or use of the data.

So what is the current status of these initiatives – and what steps are outlined therein for their implementation if passed or approved.

FASTR was referred to committees in the House and Senate shortly after it was introduced. There hasn’t been any other Congressional activity on the bills since their referral. However, there has been a large outpouring of public support for the bill. Various library, publishing and public interest organizations have signed onto a joint open letter to Congress supporting the bill and this fall the provosts and presidents from 65 different institutions also issued an open letter to Congress in support of FASTR.

By the terms of the OSTP memo, agencies had to submit their implementation plans by August 2013 and those plans were to be implemented by February 2014. Despite a request from SPARC and other interested parties, the details of those plans have not been made public. The latest information is that the plans are currently undergoing revision in response to feedback received from OSTP and OMB.

Meanwhile, two groups have undertaken development of systems to assist with implementation of the OSTP directive.

ARL, APLU and AAU released their plans for the Shared Access Research Ecosystem last summer, however, development of those plans has been a tad slow. The most recent news from SHARE is the development of a Notification Service which will alert interested parties such as universities and funders, of the release of research output from their faculty, researchers and grant recipients. A beta release of this notification system is scheduled for this fall and the full release for fall 2015. Additional planned components of SHARE include a registry for articles and data, a discovery tool for users to locate funded research across repositories, and a content aggregation system to facilitate data and text mining.

Publishers have also coordinated to create a system called CHORUS or the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States. A pilot database of funded articles was released fall and to date over 100 publishers have signed on to participate. The Departments of Energy and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation are also participating in a pilot of a dashboard whereby interested persons can search an individual agency for funded papers.

As for the spending bill – it was signed by the President, and what this amounts to is a codification of the OSTP memo for those agencies specifically named in the bill. We should see plans or policies emerging from these agencies soon with respect to how they plan to make funded research available. It will be interesting to see if they adopt policies similar to NIH or if they avail themselves of the options currently being developed in the wake of the OSTP memo.

Finally, opposition to FIRST has been ramping up while we await markup of the bill from the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Several institutions, including SPARC, EFF, Public Library of Science, and Creative Commons, have signed on to joint letters sent to the committee opposing FIRST.

So, while we await the outcomes of these various federal bills and directives, what can we as libraries, researchers, educators and citizens do?

First and foremost it is important to stay informed, not only of the status of these bills but also of implementation plans. I would also recommend that you contact your local legislators. SPARC has provided wonderful letter templates and talking points that can be utilized by library deans and directors or by a university’s government relations office. You may also want to encourage the heads of your institutions to sign on to the advocacy letters drafted by SPARC and other organizations. Communication is key going forward so stay in contact with campus offices that are involved with research activities and funding, with faculty, with your colleagues at other libraries and even with publishers. We are all stakeholders in these endeavors and open lines of communication and cooperation will be key to the success of whatever plans are adopted by the agencies affected.

Finally, if you work in a library or at a university, start laying the groundwork of how your office or staff will be involved in compliance efforts. What staff members may be involved in implementation, how can existing resources, such as repositories, be leveraged, etc.

Here are some resources you may find helpful:


—OSTP Memo



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