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Posted Date: September 22, 2011
Last Updated: November 30, 2011

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FOIA Requester Categories


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.

When a FOIA request is received by an agency, a FOIA professional must determine into which of three requester categories a requester fits. These assessments are based in part on the identity of the requester (what type of institution the requester represents) and how the information will be used. Fees for each requester category are assessed differently.

The first requester category is commercial-use requesters, which is defined as those who are making a request for records that further their own commercial, trade, or profit interests, or that of someone on whose behalf they are making requests. Commercial requesters are charged all three types of fees--search, review, and duplication fees--associated with processing a FOIA request.

The second requester category consists of educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, and representatives of the news media. These requesters seek records for a noncommercial use. You may consult the Office of Management and Budget’s Uniform Freedom of Information Act Fee Schedule and Guidelines (available at 52 Federal Register 10,012) for a definition of each distinct subcategory of requester. Requesters in this category are not charged for search or review time, but they must pay for duplication after the first 100 pages, which are provided free of charge.

The third broad category of requesters -- all others -- includes anyone who doesn’t fit into the first two categories. Requesters in this category pay for search time after the first two hours and duplication after the first 100 pages. Requesters within this category are not charged for review time. You should consult the agency’s FOIA regulations to determine the rate at which search time and duplication will be charged.

It is important for FOIA requesters to specify into which requester category they believe they should be placed and provide any information that an agency’s FOIA regulations requires to support the requester category designated. If a requester does not specify a requester category, an agency may obtain additional public information about a requester and determine his or her requester category placement from the information it gathers.