Publicly Funded Research Should Be Publicly Available
When you pay for federally funded research, you should be allowed to read it. That’s the simple premise of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (S.779, H.R.1477), which was just passed out of a major Senate committee.
Under FASTR, every federal agency that spends more than $100 million on grants for research would be required to adopt an open access policy. Although the bill gives each agency some flexibility to develop a policy appropriate to the types of research it funds, each one would require that published research be available to the public no later than 12 months after publication.
Longtime EFF readers will note that we’ve discussed FASTR here several times before, and each time, its acronym has grown a bit more ironic. Its path is finally open. Now it’s up to us to tell Congress that we can’t wait another year.
As we’ve noted before, FASTR isn’t a perfect bill. An ideal open access mandate would require that the research be shared under a license that allows anyone not only to read the research, but also to reuse and redistribute it for any purpose. Read-only access is a big step in the right direction, but it’s just a step.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs made one unfortunate amendment to the bill, raising the embargo period for research from six months to 12. If six months was already a long time to wait for access to cutting-edge research, then 12 is an eternity.
The 12-month embargo puts FASTR in line with an existing White House Office of Science and Technology Policy memo requiring agencies to develop public access policies. It’s disappointing that the new Senate version of FASTR doesn’t break much new ground beyond what the White House memo currently requires. On the other hand, a new administration is just around the corner. Codifying the open access mandate in law will ensure that future administrations make publicly funded research available to the public.
Let’s make the message loud and clear to Congress: this is the year for a federal open access mandate.