Open Access Advocates Protest The FIRST Act

Sal Robinson | Melville House | November 18, 2013

When, in February 2013, the White House issued a directive stating that all larger federal agencies (agencies that spent over $100 million R&D annually) should make the results of any federally funded research available to the public within a year of publication, Open Access advocates cheered. This was the first commitment to an across-the-board OA policy at the federal level in the US, though the UK and the European Commission had already advanced OA policies for the results of taxpayer-funded scientific research.

However, a new bill, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (or FIRST) Act of 2013 now threatens to reverse the progress made earlier in the year. The FIRST Act is a broad bill meant to re-establish the priorities for the National Science Foundation, since its precursor, the America COMPETES bill of 2010, is due to expire this year. It addresses many functions of the NSF, including merit review and grant distribution.

But it’s Title III, Section 302 of the bill that Open Access advocates are concerned about. This section has a number of provisions that contradict, in name or in spirit, the earlier White House directive. For instance, the FIRST act requires that all agencies create policies so that federally funded articles or data are released to the public… but first they can be kept behind a paywall for 24 months, a period which can also be extended by another year if stakeholders agree.