White House Opens Tax-Funded Research to Taxpayers

February 27, 2013

President Obama's White House science office has decided to allow all tax-funded research results to be read by any member of the public. Such a move had been resisted for years by the few large companies that dominate the scientific publishing industry. Some open-access groups hailed the memo as a breakthrough that would really allow taxpayers to read the research they pay for.

Well, almost ... and pretty much so... eventually. Maybe. The proof will be in the implementation.

The news came via a February 22, 2013, memo issued to heads of executive departments by John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The memo directs the estimated 19 federal agencies that spend more than $100 million on research annually to "develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government." The plans are to be submitted to OSTP by an August 22, 2013, deadline.

But in a concession to the publishing industry, the policy allows a 12-month time lag between publication in paid-subscription journals and eventual free online publication.

The White House move may have headed off a bill introduced in Congress this year, which would have required greater access than the White House memo does. The so-called Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR, HR 708) was introduced February 14, 2013, by Rep. Michael F. Doyle (D-PA).

The White House Office of Management and Budget, at industry urging, had bottled the policy up for years. The sudden change came after the suicide of data-activist Aaron Swartz, who faced decades in prison because the Obama administration had decided to prosecute him for open-access hacking. Swartz' death prompted a petition on the White House's "We the People" petition site that garnered some 65,000 signatures.

The Society of Environmental Journalists has supported the general principle of open access to tax-funded research — though in another context — opposing a 2009 bill that would have prevented it.


This is one of the stories in the February 27, 2013 issue of SEJ's biweekly WatchDog. Find the rest of the stories and past issues here.

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