One of the greatest events in the history of Open Access may have just happened. On May 2, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the bipartisan Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 (FRPAA) (S.2695). The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. If passed, the policy would require that agencies with research budgets of more than $100 million enact policy to ensure that articles generated through research funded by that agency are made available online within 6 months of publication.
"Each year, our federal government invests more than $55 billion on basic and applied research. That's roughly 40 percent of the current 2-year budget for my home state of Texas," noted Cornyn in a speech introducing the bill to the Senate. The bulk of this money is spent by approximately 10 agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture. These agencies use the money to fund research that is usually conducted by outside researchers working for universities, healthcare systems, and other groups.
The act is viewed as symbolic, reflecting the public access policy of the NIH, which was implemented in May 2005. The NIH policy is voluntary for researchers and is largely viewed as a failure, with only four percent of eligible research making it into PubMed Central.
According to Lieberman, "Taxpayer-funded research should be accessible to taxpayers. Our bill will give researchers, medical professionals and patients in Connecticut and throughout the nation access to scientific discoveries and advancements that can help bring new treatments and cures to the public."
The legislation requires that every researcher—funded totally or partially by the agency—submit an electronic copy of the final manuscript that has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal to that agency.
The agency must ensure that the manuscript is preserved in a stable, digital repository maintained by that agency or in another suitable repository that permits free public access, has interoperability, and is designed for long-term preservation.
Finally, the legislation requires that free, online access to each taxpayer-funded manuscript be available as soon as possible, and no later than 6 months after its publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
"Making this information available to the public will lead to faster discoveries, innovations, and cures," Cornyn said. "This bill will give the American taxpayer a greater return on its research investment."
According to Cornyn's Web site, the senator "has been a leading proponent of increasing the public's access to information. The Senate passed Cornyn's legislation in June to bring increased sunshine to the federal legislative process. In addition, Cornyn has introduced the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act (OPEN Government Act, S. 394) and a bill to establish an advisory Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays."
"The expanded access to research called for by this bill will help accelerate true innovation in science and medicine," said Heather Joseph, executive director of SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, an Alliance for Taxpayer Access founding member). "The public's interest is clear; whether it is speeding a response to a potential flu pandemic, developing energy alternatives, or putting the brakes on global warming, access to publicly funded science is more critical than ever." Joseph added, "The Alliance is encouraged by Congressional leaders who agree that we can do much more to leverage the taxpayers' return on federal investment in these essential areas."
"Public access to research expands shared knowledge across scientific fields and is the best path for accelerating multi-disciplinary breakthroughs in research," said Richard J. Roberts, a Nobel Prize laureate and research director at New England Biolabs. "As a scientist and a taxpayer, I support this bill because it lifts barriers that hinder, delay, or block the spread of scientific knowledge supported by federal tax dollars."
FRPAA has corrected all but one of the flaws of the NIH Public Access Policy, but it is "still just a bill, not an implemented policy," observed Stevan Harnad, long-time proponent of Open Access. "There is still time for the RCUK as well as the European Commission to get their acts together and implement their dual deposit/release policies—mandating immediate deposit, encouraging immediate release in Open Access—before the U.S. does, correcting the one remaining flaw (delayed deposit)."
Of course, not everyone is happy with this bill. In an article in The Washington Post, Patricia S. Schroeder, president and chief executive of the Association of American Publishers, promised a fight (not surprisingly). "It is frustrating that we can't seem to get across to people how expensive it is to do the peer review, edit these articles, and put them into a form everyone can understand," Schroeder said.
Cornyn said: "This legislation is a common-sense approach to expand the public's access to research it funds. And it will help accelerate scientific innovation and discovery."