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Federal Research Public Access Act 2012 FAQ

Published Feb 9, 2012

What does this bill do?
 
This bipartisan-supported bill requires federal agencies and departments with annual extramural research budgets of over $100 million to make the final manuscript of articles generated through research funded by that agency publicly available on the Internet.  The manuscripts will be maintained and preserved in a digital archive, ensuring that taxpayer-funded research is readily available to the public. 
 
Why is public access important?
 
The federal government funds research with the expectation that new ideas and discoveries resulting from the research will advance science, stimulate the economy, and improve the lives and welfare of Americans. However, in too many cases, the research funded by American taxpayers and conducted by researchers funded by public institutions is not widely available.
 
The Federal Research Public Access Act can remedy this situation by bringing federally funded, peer-reviewed research to all Americans. The Internet makes it possible to advance these goals cost-effectively by providing public access to federally funded research.
 
Public access to research is important because it ensures that taxpayers receive a fair return on their investment in government-funded research. By removing barriers in the sharing of research, we can speed the pace of scientific discovery, and encourage new, interdisciplinary approaches to research challenges. This expanded sharing of results will lead to increased use and application of research, and accelerate the translation of this knowledge into applications -  products and services which will benefit the public, fuel economic growth, and provide opportunities for the creation of new jobs.
 
What federal research agencies will be affected by this bill?
 
The following agencies have annual extramural budgets in excess of $100 million and would therefore be required to make their non-classified research publicly accessible: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and National Science Foundation. 
 
How will citizens benefit from this legislation?
 
Today, the Internet brings access to billions of pages of information on countless topics from culture to commerce. Yet most taxpayers – including scientists – cannot readily gain access to all the research paid for with their taxes. The vast majority of publicly funded research is available only through increasingly costly journal subscriptions – often costing thousands of dollars per year.  Individual access to these articles is also often prohibitively expensive, with charges often reaching $30 or more for one article. These cost barriers impede taxpayers’ access to articles reporting on research that was conducted using their tax dollars.
 
This bill would enhance the return on the taxpayer’s investment by enabling the use and application of research by scientists and other taxpayers. It will make it possible for research to be promptly available to every physician, educator, and citizen at home, in the office, in school, or in a library. Facilitating this kind of broad and often unpredictable use of information will have direct and positive results on discovery and innovation. 
 
The Federal Research Public Access Act will also directly benefit businesses that depend on access to cutting-edge information and ideas to quickly turn new information and ideas into 
innovative products and services – boosting our economy, and creating the opportunity for new jobs.
 
Where will the publicly accessible research reside?
 
Recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach is not practical, Agencies will have flexibility in determining the ultimate location of their online archive. The bill requires that the location must be a stable, fully interoperable, online repository that can be maintained by the federal agency or an entity that meets conditions to ensure free public access, interoperability, and long-term preservation.  An example of one such existing repository is the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed Central, housed at the National Library of Medicine.
 
How will this bill impact research journals and other publications?
 
This bill offers a thoughtful, flexible approach to meeting the crucial policy goal of expanding access to the published results of taxpayer-funded research.  The Federal Research Public Access Act explicitly acknowledges the contribution of publishers by providing for a public access embargo of up to six months.  The six-month embargo will preserve the important role that journals and publishers play, including the administration of the peer-review process.  This provision balances important interests; it allows time for publishers to recoup their costs while ensuring that this research is ultimately made widely available to the public while it still is useful. 
 
The proposed language applies only to federally funded research. This will provide access to a national research treasure. However, U.S. taxpayer-funded research represents only a small portion of all articles published around the world by scientific societies, commercial publishers, and others. Journals also publish non-federally funded research, valued review articles, editorials, news and views, letters, and opinion columns – literature that is not contained in federal public-access repositories.  Journal readers will continue to seek access through their personal or library subscription to full journal content.
 
Does this revise existing patent or copyright law?
 
No. When the author of an article is a federal grantee or is working for a federal grantee, he or she normally grants to the funding agency a non-exclusive and irrevocable license to “reproduce, publish, or otherwise use the work for Federal purposes, and to authorize others to do so” (2CFR215.36(a)). Posting the article in an online repository falls within these delineated rights. Any assignment of copyright by an author subsequent to accepting a federal grant is subject to the agency’s pre-existing, non-exclusive license.
 

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