Two bills in Congress share a basic understanding that the unclassified research articles and data that arise from federal funding should be made available over the public Internet at some point after the articles have been published. However, these two bills have sharply divergent approaches to how this basic goal should be achieved.
The forward-looking, pro-innovation bill is the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR). It would effectively embody in legislation the requirements outlined in this Policy Directive from the Office of Science and Technology Policy. FASTR is a bi-partisan bill that reflects a realistic appreciation of the economics of scholarly publishing and accommodates the needs of subscription-based publishers while also promoting rapid, publicly-provided, public access.
In contrast, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act (FIRST), which would fund the National Science Foundation, would roll back progress already made. The bill would allow for access embargoes of up to 24 months even though publishers have failed to bring forth evidence that the much shorter 6-month embargo in Europe or the 12-month embargo used by the NIH have had any measurable impacts on the financial sustainability of the subscription-based publishing model. This particular feature of the bill is simply anti-innovation. Second, the bill would not require that the agency receive a copy of the article arising from federal funding. Instead, a mere link, without any requirements about its persistence, would suffice. Sadly, this would turn out to be a public access mirage in many cases, as links frequently break. Last, NSF already has drafted a public access plan – that the Obama Administration currently has not shared — in response to the OSTP Directive. The bill’s requirement for another 18-month delay is therefore merely an impediment to public access in the near future.
For more on the FIRST ACT, see Tim Vollmer, “Proposed U.S. law would weaken and postpone public access to publicly funded research.”