April 19, 2018

Federal Spending Bill Expands Research Funding With Open Access Mandate, Restores IMLS Funding

The omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Obama on January 17 has plenty of wrinkles and details, but one of them is a change that expands the number of federal agencies operating under a mandate to make research they fund available to the public after one year.

The 1,500 page document, which outlines plans for spending $1.1 trillion essentially stitches together a disparate group of appropriations bills passed by various committees in Congress and makes a spending plan of them by putting price tags on each. Included is language that mandates that research funded by agencies operating under the portion of the bill covering Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education must be made available to the public for free online.

That change is good news for advocates of open access, said Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), as it expands the number of agencies operating under the kind of open access policies that have been in place at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 2008.

The federal government provides about $60 billion in funding for scientific research annually, and an Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo released last February directs that all research funded by agencies with more than $100 million in research and development spending-essentially all research funded by the government—should be made available to the public no later than 12-months after publication. While it’s an important values statement in favor of free access to publicly funded research, that directive carries little legal weight. Only $29 billion of that funding—dominated by NIH funded research—was under a strict legal obligation to ensure that happened. The language in the omnibus bill marks an expansion of  the departments mandated by law to share the research they fund, Joseph told Library Journal, raising the total of federally funded research required to be made open access by $2 billion to $31 billion, or just over half the U.S. research funding budget.

That codification, Joseph pointed out, is important for the future of public access to publicly funded research. “Lawmakers love a precedent. They love to be able to point to an established norm,” Joseph said. “The more times [this idea] is codified into law, the harder it is to roll back the gains made by open access.”

While this is a victory for SPARC and its allies, it’s hardly the end of the road for open access advocates. Significant research funding sources, like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and  the National Science Foundation (NSF), remain encouraged to make the research they fund publicly available per the OSTP directive, but under no legal onus to do so. Getting codification of open access requirements for that research, while also protecting the currently enshrined policies from attempts at rollbacks are among SPARC’s highest priorities right now, Joseph said.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has released a statement decrying the expansion.”Many published journals are used by more than half their subscribers long after 12 months from publication,” the statement reads in part, “including some reporting on research funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, all subject to the new provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act.”

IMLS Sees Recovery AS well

The spending bill also saw reason for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to celebrate.The new budget restores some of the funding the IMLS saw eliminated in 2013, when cuts brought about by the federal sequestration cut the IMLS budget by 5%.

While still falling short of 2012 levels, the latest bill raises the IMLS budget for libraries from $175,044,000 in 2013 to $180,909,000  in the 2014 fiscal year. Most of those restored funds will fund grants to state libraries through the Library Services Technology Act (LSTA). 2014 will see $154,848,000 made available for grants to states. That’s up from the $150,000,000 available last year, but still short of the $156,365,300 budget for state grants in 2012.

The overall budget of $226,860,000 is a $7 million increase over last year’s budget, and $1 million more than the agency requested for the 2014 fiscal year.


Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.