Congress took a small step toward expanding a requirement that science agencies make federally funded research papers publicly available in the omnibus spending bill approved yesterday. But the 1-year provision applies only to certain agencies, and the research behemoth among them—the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—already has a similar policy.
The language is buried on page 1020 of the 1582-page bill  in a section that covers the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (see excerpt below). It states that agencies that spend more than $100 million a year on research and development must develop a policy requiring that a “machine-readable version” of peer-reviewed, accepted papers that have any federal support be submitted to the funding agency. The policy must also make the papers free online no more than 12 months after publication in a journal.
That’s pretty much what NIH already does with its 2008 public access policy . The agency requires that NIH-funded investigators submit their peer-reviewed manuscripts for posting in the free PubMed Central archive within a year. There are a few differences between the NIH policy and the bill language, according to this analysis from The Scholarly Kitchen , a blog written from the perspective of traditional publishers. For example, the omnibus bill does not stipulate that the paper be deposited in a particular repository.
The language applies to a number of health and other agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Education. “This is an important step toward making federally funded scientific research available for everyone to use online at no cost,” said Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition in a statement .
What the bill doesn’t do is mandate public access at other major science agencies, most notably the National Science Foundation. Those agencies are already working to comply with a February 2013 directive from the White House  Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) requiring that they develop public access policies with a 12-month posting requirement (with some wiggle room on the 12 months). But Congress didn’t use the bill to codify the government-wide OSTP policy, instead merely asking in an accompanying report (language below) that agencies report on their progress within 45 days.
The Association of American Publishers was not yet prepared to comment on the public access provisions in the bill, according to spokesperson Andi Sporkin.
SEC. 527. Each Federal agency, or in the case of an agency with multiple bureaus, each bureau (or operating division) funded under this Act that has research and development expenditures in excess of $100,000,000 per year shall develop a Federal research public access policy that provides for—
(1) the submission to the agency, agency bureau, or designated entity acting on behalf of the agency, a machine-readable version of the author’s final peer-reviewed manuscripts that have been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals describing research supported, in whole or in part, from funding by the Federal Government;
(2) free online public access to such final peer reviewed manuscripts or published versions not later than 12 months after the official date of publication;
(3) compliance with all relevant copyright laws.
FROM THE JOINT EXPLANATORY STATEMENT THAT ACCOMPANIES THE BILL:
Public access to federally funded research. — Major Federal research agencies are in the process of drafting and implementing plans to enable public access to federally funded research findings in accordance with guidance issued by OSTP in February, 2013. OSTP shall report to the Committees on each agency's progress in developing and implementing its plan. The first such report shall be submitted within 45 days of the enactment of this Act, with semi-annual updates thereafter.