House Judiciary chairman slams Appropriations panel over jurisdiction

Spat concerns an NIH mandate requiring federally supported scientists to submit their research manuscripts for free access on the Internet.

A recent mandate that the National Institutes of Health require federally supported scientists to submit their research manuscripts for free public access on the Internet would be overturned if a bill by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., is passed and signed into law.

On Thursday, Conyers slammed the powerful House Appropriations Committee for not consulting with his panel before pushing through the rule as part of a 2008 funding package.

"We have tried to communicate repeatedly with the leader of that committee ... and what did we get? Nothing," Conyers said at a hearing of the Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee.

He said he viewed the silence as a blow-off by Appropriations Chairman David Obey and said he was frustrated that appropriators ran roughshod over the "sacred jurisdiction" of his committee to act "summarily, unilaterally and probably incorrectly." Calls to Obey's office were not returned by deadline.

Open access and consumer advocates championed the NIH's new requirement while publishers panned it, arguing that it could put subscription-based scientific journals out of business.

Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee Chairman Howard Berman, D-Calif., said he saw merits to both sides but did not publicly endorse Conyers' bill, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Robert Wexler, D-Fla.

He and Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee ranking member Howard Coble, R-N.C., said they needed more time to learn about the issue before taking a position. Berman told CongressDaily after the hearing that further action on the bill would probably be held over until the 111th Congress.

Former U.S. Register of Copyrights Ralph Oman warned the subcommittee that the NIH policy could "destroy the commercial market for scientific and technical journals."

Heather Dalterio Joseph, head of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, argued against the legislation. She said U.S. taxpayers underwrite tens of billions of dollars of research annually and PubMed Central allows that material to be shared appropriately.

From May 2005 to December 2007, more than 14,000 articles supported by NIH -- out of a total 189,000 -- were made publicly available through its PubMed Central database through a voluntary policy, the NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said.

Since enactment of the mandatory rule, well over half of NIH-funded articles are being submitted for inclusion in the repository and the percentage is growing, he said. Zerhouni did not offer the Bush administration's official views on Conyers' bill but said they were forthcoming.