Senior academic officers of major US universities have backed a plan for open access to publicly funded research, which they said would "accelerate the advancement of knowledge".
A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives proposing that the 11 federal agencies with external research budgets of more than $100 million (£66 million) provide free online access to the results of the research they fund, no less than six months after publication in a journal.
A previous version of the bill, covering research funded by bodies such as Nasa, stalled in Congress last year as legislators became bogged down with healthcare reform.
Now provosts and presidents from public and private research universities have written an open letter, released by Harvard University provost Steven Hyman, in support of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA).
Other signatories to the letter include Christopher L. Eisgruber, provost at Princeton University, and George Breslauer, executive vice-chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley.
The signatories note that, on average, about 50 per cent of research funding at their institutions comes from the federal government.
They say the legislation gives the opportunity to broaden "access to publicly funded research in order to accelerate the advancement of knowledge and maximise the related public good".
They add: "Scholarly publishers, academic libraries, university leaders and scholars themselves must engage in an ongoing dialogue about the means of scholarly production and distribution.
"The passage of FRPAA will be an important step in catalysing that dialogue, but it is not the last one that we will need to take."
The bill is likely to face opposition from journal publishers, who fear their business model is threatened by open access to research.
But Mike Doyle, the Democrat congressman who introduced the bill, said he hoped it would pass through Congress by the end of the year.