(a) In general. Components shall charge for processing requests under the FOIA in accordance with the provisions of this section and with the OMB Guidelines. Components will ordinarily use the most efficient and least expensive method for processing requested records. In order to resolve any fee issues that arise under this section, a component may contact a requester for additional information. A component ordinarily will collect all applicable fees before sending copies of records to a requester. If you make a FOIA request, it shall be considered a firm commitment to pay all applicable fees charged under § 5.11, up to $25.00, unless you seek a waiver of fees. Requesters must pay fees by check or money order made payable to the Treasury of the United States.
(b) Definitions. Generally, “requester category” means one of the three categories in which agencies place requesters for the purpose of determining whether a requester will be charged fees for search, review and duplication; categories include commercial requesters, noncommercial scientific or educational institutions or news media requesters, and all other requesters. The term “fee waiver” means that processing fees will be waived, or reduced, if a requester can demonstrate that certain statutory standards are satisfied including that the information is in the public interest and is not requested for a primarily commercial interest. For purposes of this section:
(1) Commercial use request is a request that asks for information for a use or a purpose that furthers a commercial, trade, or profit interest, which can include furthering those interests through litigation. A component's decision to place a requester in the commercial use category will be made on a case-by-case basis based on the requester's intended use of the information.
(2) Direct costs are those expenses that an agency expends in searching for and duplicating (and, in the case of commercial use requests, reviewing) records in order to respond to a FOIA request. For example, direct costs include the salary of the employee performing the work (i.e., the basic rate of pay for the employee, plus 16 percent of that rate to cover benefits) and the cost of operating computers and other electronic equipment, such as photocopiers and scanners. Direct costs do not include overhead expenses such as the costs of space, and of heating or lighting a facility.
(3) Duplication is reproducing a copy of a record or of the information contained in it, necessary to respond to a FOIA request. Copies can take the form of paper, audiovisual materials, or electronic records, among others.
(4) Educational institution is any school that operates a program of scholarly research. A requester in this fee category must show that the request is made in connection with his or her role at the educational institution. Components may seek verification from the requester that the request is in furtherance of scholarly research.
A request from a professor of geology at a university for records relating to soil erosion, written on letterhead of the Department of Geology, would be presumed to be from an educational institution if the request adequately describes how the requested information would further a specific research goal of the educational institution.
A request from the same professor of geology seeking immigration information from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in furtherance of a murder mystery he is writing would not be presumed to be an institutional request, regardless of whether it was written on institutional stationery.
A student who makes a request in furtherance of their coursework or other school-sponsored activities and provides a copy of a course syllabus or other reasonable documentation to indicate the research purpose for the request, would qualify as part of this fee category.
These examples are provided for guidance purposes only. Each individual request will be evaluated under the particular facts, circumstances, and information provided by the requester.
(5) Noncommercial scientific institution is an institution that is not operated on a “commercial” basis, as defined in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, and that is operated solely for the purpose of conducting scientific research the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry. A requester in this category must show that the request is authorized by and is made under the auspices of a qualifying institution and that the records are sought to further scientific research and not for a commercial use.
(6) Representative of the news media is any person or entity that actively gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. The term “news” means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public. Examples of news media entities include television or radio stations that broadcast “news” to the public at large and publishers of periodicals that disseminate “news” and make their products available through a variety of means to the general public, including but not limited to, news organizations that disseminate solely on the Internet. A request for records that supports the news-dissemination function of the requester shall not be considered to be for a commercial use. In contrast, data brokers or others who merely compile and market government information for direct economic return shall not be presumed to be news media entities. “Freelance” journalists must demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through a news media entity in order to be considered as working for a news media entity. A publication contract would provide the clearest evidence that publication is expected; however, components shall also consider a requester's past publication record in making this determination.
(7) Review is the page-by-page, line-by-line examination of a record located in response to a request in order to determine whether any portion of it is exempt from disclosure. Review time includes processing any record for disclosure, such as doing all that is necessary to prepare the record for disclosure, including the process of redacting the record and marking the appropriate exemptions. Review costs are properly charged even if a record ultimately is not disclosed. Review time also includes time spent both obtaining and considering any formal objection to disclosure made by a confidential commercial information submitter under § 5.7 or § 5.12, but it does not include time spent resolving general legal or policy issues regarding the application of exemptions.
(8) Search is the process of looking for and retrieving records or information responsive to a request. Search time includes page-by-page or line-by-line identification of information within records; and the reasonable efforts expended to locate and retrieve information from electronic records. Components shall ensure that searches are done in the most efficient and least expensive manner reasonably possible by readily available means.
(c) Charging fees. In responding to FOIA requests, components shall charge the following fees unless a waiver or reduction of fees has been granted under paragraph (k) of this section. Because the fee amounts provided below already account for the direct costs associated with a given fee type, unless otherwise stated in § 5.11, components should not add any additional costs to those charges.
(i) Search fees shall be charged for all requests subject to the restrictions of paragraph (d) of this section. Components may properly charge for time spent searching even if they do not locate any responsive records or if they determine that the records are entirely exempt from disclosure.
(ii) For each quarter hour spent by personnel searching for requested records, including electronic searches that do not require new programming, the fees will be as follows: Managerial - $10.25; professional - $7.00; and clerical/administrative - $4.00.
(iii) Requesters will be charged the direct costs associated with conducting any search that requires the creation of a new computer program, as referenced in section 5.4, to locate the requested records. Requesters shall be notified of the costs associated with creating such a program and must agree to pay the associated costs before the costs may be incurred.
(iv) For requests that require the retrieval of records stored by an agency at a federal records center operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), additional costs shall be charged in accordance with the Transactional Billing Rate Schedule established by NARA.
(2) Duplication. Duplication fees will be charged to all requesters, subject to the restrictions of paragraph (d) of this section. A component shall honor a requester's preference for receiving a record in a particular form or format where it is readily reproducible by the component in the form or format requested. Where photocopies are supplied, the component will provide one copy per request at a cost of ten cents per page. For copies of records produced on tapes, disks, or other media, components will charge the direct costs of producing the copy, including operator time. Where paper documents must be scanned in order to comply with a requester's preference to receive the records in an electronic format, the requester shall pay the direct costs associated with scanning those materials. For other forms of duplication, components will charge the direct costs.
(3) Review. Review fees will be charged to requesters who make commercial use requests. Review fees will be assessed in connection with the initial review of the record, i.e., the review conducted by a component to determine whether an exemption applies to a particular record or portion of a record. No charge will be made for review at the administrative appeal stage of exemptions applied at the initial review stage. However, when the appellate authority determines that a particular exemption no longer applies, any costs associated with a component's re-review of the records in order to consider the use of other exemptions may be assessed as review fees. Review fees will be charged at the same rates as those charged for a search under paragraph (c)(1)(ii) of this section.
(d) Restrictions on charging fees.
(1) No search fees will be charged for requests by educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media, unless the records are sought for a commercial use.
(2) If a component fails to comply with the FOIA's time limits in which to respond to a request, it may not charge search fees, or, in the instances of requests from requesters described in paragraph (d)(1) of this section, may not charge duplication fees, except as described in (d)(2)(i) through (iii).
(i) If a component has determined that unusual circumstances as defined by the FOIA apply and the component provided timely written notice to the requester in accordance with the FOIA, a failure to comply with the time limit shall be excused for an additional 10 days.
(ii) If a component has determined that unusual circumstances, as defined by the FOIA, apply and more than 5,000 pages are necessary to respond to the request, a component may charge search fees, or, in the case of requesters described in paragraph (d)(1) of this section, may charge duplication fees, if the following steps are taken. The component must have provided timely written notice of unusual circumstances to the requester in accordance with the FOIA and the component must have discussed with the requester via written mail, email, or telephone (or made not less than three good-faith attempts to do so) how the requester could effectively limit the scope of the request in accordance with 5. U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(B)(ii). If this exception is satisfied, the component may charge all applicable fees incurred in the processing of the request.
(iii) If a court has determined that exceptional circumstances exist, as defined by the FOIA, a failure to comply with the time limits shall be excused for the length of time provided by the court order.
(3) No search or review fees will be charged for a quarter-hour period unless more than half of that period is required for search or review.
(4) Except for requesters seeking records for a commercial use, components will provide without charge:
(i) The first 100 pages of duplication (or the cost equivalent for other media); and
(ii) The first two hours of search.
(5) When, after first deducting the 100 free pages (or its cost equivalent) and the first two hours of search, a total fee calculated under paragraph (c) of this section is $14.00 or less for any request, no fee will be charged.
(e) Notice of anticipated fees in excess of $25.00.
(1) When a component determines or estimates that the fees to be assessed in accordance with this section will exceed $25.00, the component shall notify the requester of the actual or estimated amount of the fees, including a breakdown of the fees for search, review and/or duplication, unless the requester has indicated a willingness to pay fees as high as those anticipated. If only a portion of the fee can be estimated readily, the component shall advise the requester accordingly. If the requester is a noncommercial use requester, the notice will specify that the requester is entitled to his or her statutory entitlements of 100 pages of duplication at no charge and, if the requester is charged search fees, two hours of search time at no charge, and will advise the requester whether those entitlements have been provided. Two hours of search time will be provided free of charge to non-commercial requesters regardless of whether they agree to pay estimated fees.
(2) In cases in which a requester has been notified that the actual or estimated fees are in excess of $25.00, the request shall not be considered received and further work will not be completed until the requester commits in writing to pay the actual or estimated total fee, or designates some amount of fees he or she is willing to pay, or in the case of a noncommercial use requester who has not yet been provided with his or her statutory entitlements, designates that he or she seeks only that which can be provided by the statutory entitlements. The requester must provide the commitment or designation in writing, and must, when applicable, designate an exact dollar amount the requester is willing to pay. Components are not required to accept payments in installments.
(3) If the requester has indicated a willingness to pay some designated amount of fees, but the component estimates that the total fee will exceed that amount, the component will toll the processing of the request while it notifies the requester of the estimated fees in excess of the amount the requester has indicated a willingness to pay. The component shall inquire whether the requester wishes to revise the amount of fees he or she is willing to pay and/or modify the request. Once the requester responds, the time to respond will resume from where it was at the date of the notification.
(4) Components will make available their FOIA Public Liaison or other FOIA professional to assist any requester in reformulating a request to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.
(f) Charges for other services. Although not required to provide special services, if a component chooses to do so as a matter of administrative discretion, the direct costs of providing the service will be charged. Examples of such services include certifying that records are true copies, providing multiple copies of the same document, or sending records by means other than first class mail.
(g) Charging interest. Components may charge interest on any unpaid bill starting on the 31st day following the date of billing the requester. Interest charges will be assessed at the rate provided in 31 U.S.C. 3717 and will accrue from the billing date until payment is received by the component. Components will follow the provisions of the Debt Collection Act of 1982 (Pub. L. 97-365, 96 Stat. 1749), as amended, and its administrative procedures, including the use of consumer reporting agencies, collection agencies, and offset.
(h) Aggregating requests. When a component reasonably believes that a requester or a group of requesters acting in concert is attempting to divide a single request into a series of requests for the purpose of avoiding fees, the component may aggregate those requests and charge accordingly. Components may presume that multiple requests of this type made within a 30-day period have been made in order to avoid fees. For requests separated by a longer period, components will aggregate them only where there is a reasonable basis for determining that aggregation is warranted in view of all the circumstances involved. Multiple requests involving unrelated matters will not be aggregated.
(i) Advance payments.
(1) For requests other than those described in paragraphs (i)(2) and (3) of this section, a component shall not require the requester to make an advance payment before work is commenced or continued on a request. Payment owed for work already completed (i.e., payment before copies are sent to a requester) is not an advance payment.
(2) When a component determines or estimates that a total fee to be charged under this section will exceed $250.00, it may require that the requester make an advance payment up to the amount of the entire anticipated fee before beginning to process the request. A component may elect to process the request prior to collecting fees when it receives a satisfactory assurance of full payment from a requester with a history of prompt payment.
(3) Where a requester has previously failed to pay a properly charged FOIA fee to any component or agency within 30 calendar days of the billing date, a component may require that the requester pay the full amount due, plus any applicable interest on that prior request and the component may require that the requester make an advance payment of the full amount of any anticipated fee, before the component begins to process a new request or continues to process a pending request or any pending appeal. Where a component has a reasonable basis to believe that a requester has misrepresented his or her identity in order to avoid paying outstanding fees, it may require that the requester provide proof of identity.
(4) In cases in which a component requires advance payment, the request shall not be considered received and further work will not be completed until the required payment is received. If the requester does not pay the advance payment within 30 calendar days after the date of the component's fee determination, the request will be closed.
(j) Other statutes specifically providing for fees. The fee schedule of this section does not apply to fees charged under any statute that specifically requires an agency to set and collect fees for particular types of records. In instances where records responsive to a request are subject to a statutorily-based fee schedule program, the component will inform the requester of the contact information for that source.
(k) Requirements for waiver or reduction of fees.
(1) Records responsive to a request shall be furnished without charge or at a reduced rate below that established under paragraph (c) of this section, where a component determines, on a case-by-case basis, based on all available information, that the requester has demonstrated that:
(i) Disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government; and
(ii) Disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
(2) In deciding whether disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of operations or activities of the government, components will consider the following factors:
(i) The subject of the request must concern identifiable operations or activities of the federal government, with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.
(ii) Disclosure of the requested records must be meaningfully informative about government operations or activities in order to be “likely to contribute” to an increased public understanding of those operations or activities. The disclosure of information that already is in the public domain, in either the same or a substantially identical form, would not contribute to such understanding where nothing new would be added to the public's understanding.
(iii) The disclosure must contribute to the understanding of a reasonably broad audience of persons interested in the subject, as opposed to the individual understanding of the requester. A requester's expertise in the subject area as well as his or her ability and intention to effectively convey information to the public shall be considered. It shall be presumed that a representative of the news media will satisfy this consideration.
(iv) The public's understanding of the subject in question must be enhanced by the disclosure to a significant extent. However, components shall not make value judgments about whether the information at issue is “important” enough to be made public.
(3) To determine whether disclosure of the requested information is primarily in the commercial interest of the requester, components will consider the following factors:
(i) Components shall identify any commercial interest of the requester, as defined in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. Requesters shall be given an opportunity to provide explanatory information regarding this consideration.
(ii) A waiver or reduction of fees is justified where the public interest is greater than any identified commercial interest in disclosure. Components ordinarily shall presume that where a news media requester has satisfied the public interest standard, the public interest will be the interest primarily served by disclosure to that requester. Disclosure to data brokers or others who merely compile and market government information for direct economic return shall not be presumed to primarily serve the public interest.
(4) Where only some of the records to be released satisfy the requirements for a waiver of fees, a waiver shall be granted for those records.
(5) Requests for a waiver or reduction of fees should be made when the request is first submitted to the component and should address the criteria referenced above. A requester may submit a fee waiver request at a later time so long as the underlying record request is pending or on administrative appeal. When a requester who has committed to pay fees subsequently asks for a waiver of those fees and that waiver is denied, the requester will be required to pay any costs incurred up to the date the fee waiver request was received.
(6) Summary of fees. The following table summarizes the chargeable fees (excluding direct fees identified in § 5.11) for each requester category.
|Category||Search fees||Review fees||Duplication fees|
|Educational or Non-Commercial Scientific Institution||No||No||Yes (100 pages free).|
|News Media||No||No||Yes (100 pages free).|
|Other requesters||Yes (2 hours free)||No||Yes (100 pages free).|