FIRST Act Severely Undermines U.S. Public Access Policies

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March 12, 2014

Earlier this week, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) introduced the H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act.  It’s a bit surprising that there has been so little coverage of this very controversial bill.  Among many troubling provisions, the bill includes language on public access that SPARC strongly opposes. 

The language, contained in Section 303 of the bill, would impose significant barriers to the public’s ability to access the results of taxpayer-funded research, be a step backward from existing federal policy in the directive, and put the U.S. at a severe disadvantage among our global competitors.  

There will be many opportunities to weigh in against this provision as the FIRST Act makes its way through the legislative process in the House of Representatives from subcommittee markup, to full committee markup, to deliberation on the House floor. (Think: the Schoolhouse Rock song, I’m Just a Bill.)

That process begins tomorrow morning in the Research and Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which is scheduled to mark up the bill at 9:00am. 

Specifically, SPARC opposes Section 303 because it would:

  • Slow the pace of scientific discovery by restricting public access to articles reporting on federally funded research for up to three years after initial publication.  This stands in stark contrast to the policies in use around the world, which call for maximum embargo periods of no more than six to 12 months.
  • Fail to support provisions that allow for shorter embargo periods to publicly funded research results.  This provision ignores the potential harm to stakeholders that can accrue through unnecessarily long delays.
  • Fail to ensure that federal agencies have full text copies of their funded research articles to archive and provide to the public for full use, and for long-term archiving.  By condoning a link to an article on a publisher’s website as an acceptable compliance mechanism, this provision puts the long term accessibility and utility of federally funded research articles at serious risk.  
  • Stifle researchers’ ability to share their own research and to access the works of others, slowing progress towards scientific discoveries, medical breakthroughs, treatments, and cures.
  • Make it harder for U.S. companies – especially small businesses and start-ups – to access cutting-edge research, thereby slowing their ability to innovate, create new products and services, and generate new jobs.
  • Waste further time and taxpayer dollars by calling for a needless, additional 18-month delay while agencies “develop plans for” policies.  This is a duplication of federal agency work that was required by the White House Directive and has, in large part, already been completed.
  • Impose unnecessary costs on federal agency public access programs by conflating access and preservation policies as applied to articles and data.  The legislation does not make clear enough what data must be made accessible, nor adequately articulate the location of where such data would reside, or its terms of use.

We will continue to work with the many bipartisan members of the Congress who support open access to publicly funded research to improve the bill – and hope that they will hear from you as well.
Send a letter opposing Section 303 to members of the House Science Committee now using our legislative action center.

 

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