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Posted Date: September 22, 2011
Last Updated: November 30, 2011
FOIA Fee Types
The amended Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. §552) (FOIA) allows agencies to charge fees in connection with the processing of a FOIA request. Though every agency has its own FOIA regulations related to fees, there is a uniform fee schedule and guidelines published by the Office of Management and Budget (available at 52 Federal Register 10,012) that applies to all agencies.
There are three types of fees that may be assessed in response to a FOIA request. Depending on the category into which the requester falls (see FOIA requester categories), certain fees may be assessed when responding to a FOIA request. The rate at which various fees are charged varies across agencies and are defined in agency FOIA regulations.
The first fee type is for search time. While some requesters may assume that all of an agency’s information is consolidated in one searchable database – or that FOIA staff can simply walk over to a cabinet to grab the file that was requested – this is almost never the case. Searching can be a complicated and lengthy process that often includes multiple members of an agency’s staff. Search fees may include time spent looking for records, or looking for the responsive material within records. Agencies may charge search fees even if they find no responsive records.
The second fee type is for review time. Once a record is located, it must be reviewed by expert staff who is able to determine whether information is releasable or exempt from disclosure. Review fees include the time processing documents for disclosure—doing all that is necessary to prepare the documents for release. Review fees do not include time spent resolving general legal or policy issues regarding the applicability of particular exemptions or reviewing on appeal exemptions that were applied at the initial processing stage.
The third fee type is for duplication, which covers the reasonable direct costs of making copies of records. This could include reproducing paper copies, or the cost of production of electronic records. In some cases electronic records may be less expensive to reproduce than paper records, though this is not always the case.
Not every requester is charged the full cost of each fee type. For more information, read about requester categories.