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PubSCIENCE Under Threat
by
Posted On July 9, 2001
A U.S. congressional subcommittee on energy and water development has declared that the Department of Energy's (DOE) PubSCIENCE service (http://pubsci.osti.gov) is an undesirable duplication of private-sector activities and has recommended a budget cut, which could, if enacted, shut down PubSCIENCE. The Committee on Appropriations submitted its report (H.R. 2311, Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, 2002) on June 26. The bill's sponsor is Representative Sonny Callahan of Alabama.

PubSCIENCE is a service that was developed by the DOE's Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) in 1999. It's made available to the American public in partnership with the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). PubSCIENCE provides free Web access to citations of scientific journal articles from over 1,300 journals; the service is made available through a public/private sector collaboration between DOE and 42 journal publishers.

The subcommittee recommends that the 2002 budget for the Technical Information Management program (which includes PubSCIENCE) be $7,870,000, a reduction of $1.1 million from the budget request and $730,000 from the enacted level for fiscal year 2001. The funding for program support is $1.4 million, while funding for program direction is $6,470,000. The $1.1 million cut exceeds the operating budget of PubSCIENCE. It's expected to be approved by the full appropriations committee.

The subcommittee states in the report that it "is concerned that the Department is duplicating technical information services that are already available from the private sector. The Department should carefully review its information services such as PubSCIENCE to be sure that such efforts remain focused on appropriate scientific journals and do not compete improperly with similar services available from the private sector."

The proposal to eliminate PubSCIENCE came after lobbying efforts by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA). In a June 28 article in Nature, David LeDuc, an SIIA official, said that PubSCIENCE provides a service similar to products offered by the association's members, and "makes it increasingly difficult for these private-sector companies to continue offering products." Walter Warnick, director of the OSTI, has reportedly said that he will take the guidance of the Congress seriously in deciding the fate of PubSCIENCE.

The 1,000-member Washington DC-based lobbying group identified the prevention of government competition with the private sector in "Government Affairs: 2001 Key Issues," a report that was released in January 2001. The report mentions SIIA's concern that "government initiatives to disseminate public information electronically should not result in expanding the role of government in providing commercial information services. Rather, government efforts to disseminate information should take full advantage of public/private partnerships of independent private services and products to efficiently and effectively provide the desired added value for the public."

It's expected that SIIA, which represents member companies such as Reed Elsevier and ISI, will next go after the National Library of Medicine's PubMed. Although it seems unlikely that the group could dismantle the widely supported PubMed, it could attempt to limit its growth.


Robin Peek is an associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. She also writes a monthly column called Focus on Publishing for Information Today.

Email Robin Peek
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