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January 29, 1999

Representative George Brown, Jr. (D-CA), Ranking Minority Member of the House Science Committee, introduced legislation on the opening day of the 106th session of Congress to restore protection of federally-funded research data developed within universities and non-profit organizations.  Brown’s bill would repeal a provision quietly inserted without hearings into the final omnibus appropriations bill (Public Law 105-277) by Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL), Trent Lott (R-MS) Ben Campbell (R-CO) and Lauch Fiarcloth (R-NC).

The provision may result in federally-funded researchers — excluding those in for-profit operations — being subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for their raw or pre-published data. Under the provision, the Office of Budget and Management is required to amend OMB regulations to require Federal agencies making research awards "to ensure that all data produced under an award will be made available to the public through the procedures established under the Freedom of Information Act." The guidelines, once drafted will be subject to a 60-day period for public comment prior to final revision and acceptance.

Although Rep. Brown’s bill, H.R. 88, had no co-sponsors when introduced, Brown and 22 other members of Congress (16 Democrats, 7 Republicans) sent a joint letter in December to OMB Director Jacob Lew voicing their opposition to the provision. Their concerns center on protection of intellectual property, violation of confidential agreements with voluntary human research subjects, and misinterpretation or misuse of the raw data prior to it being published or subjected to peer review. The signatories urged OMB to obtain input from the all involved parties, including the federal agencies, universities, research hospitals and non-profit organizations.

Separately, while introducing HR 88, Rep. Brown suggested companies may reconsider entering into research alliances and partnerships with institutions and organizations affected by the provision.

An amendment similar to the provision was defeated in the House during the last session. H.R. 88 was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform for consideration.