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One Step Closer to Getting What You Pay For

Last Updated on April 20, 2010, 5:38 pm ET

photo courtesy of hern42 by CC license

If you pay taxes, then you are contributing to the over $60 billion (with a “B”) the federal government spends annually to support basic and applied scientific research projects in hundreds of universities and labs around the country. It’s not surprising that the richest country in the world would invest some of its public resources in research that can save lives and jump-start new technologies. What is surprising is that after the government spends millions of your dollars supporting this research, the results are made available only through private companies third parties that charge you a fee for access even though you already paid for the research!

Last Thursday the House of Representatives moved to downsize this double-billing system by introducing the Federal Research Public Access Act (aka H.R. 5037, identical to the bill already pending in the Senate, S.1373). More after the jump on what’s in the bill and how you can help get it passed.

Known to its friends as “FRPAA” (rhymes with “sherpa”), the bill would require recipients of research funding from the 11 federal agencies and departments with extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to place a digital copy of the full text of any final manuscript resulting from that funding into an online, interoperable repository, to be made publicly accessible no later than 6 months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. This gives journals a 6-month window to profit from the journal literature they make available (more than enough to recover costs in the lucrative journal market, where institutions pay millions for up-to-the-second access to bleeding-edge research), but insures free public access thereafter.

The bill’s original co-sponsors are Rep. Doyle (D-PA), Rep. Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), Rep. Harper (R-MS), Rep. Boucher (D-VA), and Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA). Many other members have expressed interest, and we hope more co-sponsors will be added over the next few weeks.

The Alliance for Taxpayer Access has a nice action page where you can find helpful information about how you can show your support for this important legislation. The main thing you can do: contact your Representative and urge them to support the bill. If they are already a co-sponsor, thank them. If they are not, suggest that they sign on to co-sponsor the bill.

This should be an issue everyone can get behind. It’s not a question of whether information should be “free,” because this research is paid for. FRPAA just gives taxpayers access to the science we bought.