Just days after Congress introduced The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), a bill that would mandate public access to publicly-funded federal research, the Obama Administration Friday used its executive power to issue a Policy Memorandum that could finally make public access a reality—whether FASTR passes or not. But perhaps the most notable aspect of the proposal is that the memo was praised by publishers, and open access advocates alike. And, also by members of Congress.

In a move that Association of Research Libraries officials call “historic,” the memo directs federal agencies to submit plans for the development and implementation of public access policies. "To achieve the Administration’s commitment to increase access to federally funded published research and digital scientific data,” the memo states, “the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hereby directs each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government.”

“This is a watershed moment." said Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC. "The Administration’s action marks a major step forward towards open access to scientific research. The Directive will accelerate scientific discovery, improve education, and empower entrepreneurs to translate research into commercial ventures and jobs. It’s good for our nation, our economy, and our future.”

In all, the policy directed in the memo would affect some 19 federal agencies, and would cover “any results published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications that are based on research that directly arises from Federal funds,” consistent with “applicable law and policy; agency mission; resource constraints; U.S. national, homeland, and economic security.”

The agency plan will not apply to any articles or manuscripts “submitted for publication prior to the plan’s effective date.” No timetable for implementation of the plan is currently set, although plans are asked to be submitted within six months.

Notably, the goals articulated in the memo are virtually identical to those long pushed by public access advocates. But while publishers have consistently opposed previous federal public access mandates, and supported legislation designed to bar them from implementation, including last year's Research Works Act the 2009 Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) came out today in praise of the Obama administration's initiative, calling it "a reasonable, balanced resolution of issues around public access to research funded by federal agencies."

Specifically, the AAP noted the policy “recognizes that publishers provide valuable services," and encouraged public-private partnerships. "In stark contrast to angry rhetoric and unreasonable legislation offered by some, the OSTP takes a fair path that would enhance access for the public, acknowledge differences among agencies and scientific disciplines and recognize the critical role publishers play in vetting, producing, establishing and preserving the integrity of scientific works,” said Tom Allen, president and CEO, AAP.

However, Allen added, “the key to the success of the policy," is how "the agencies use their flexibility to avoid negative impacts to the successful system of scholarly communication that advances science, technology and innovation.”

The AAP's praise for the Obama Administration public access proposal comes just days after AAP officials issued a statement condemning FASTR, labeling the law a wasteful big government program that would impose a nightmare of regulatory burdens on researchers and duplicate activity from publishers.

AAP officials said the White House proposal offered a "reasoned approach absent from the FASTR Act."

However, Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Doyle, who introduced FASTR on February 14, doesn't quite see it that way. In a statement, Doyle said the Obama Administration directive "mirrors the goals of my bill," and represents "a big step toward reducing the exorbitant fees our university libraries have to pay to give their students access to academic journals."

Doyle said he was delighted to have the White House’s action.