This is Part 5 of a 6 Part Blog Series on “How to Make a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) Request“. Please stay tuned for the other blogs for the full picture!
Step 5: Pay Fees
There is no initial fee to file a FOIA request; however, federal agencies are allowed to request “reasonable standard charges for document search, duplication, and review. . . .” See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii)(I). Unless no relevant documents were found, the federal agency will send you a letter giving you an estimate of the charges. You will either agree to the costs or cancel the request.
The fees do vary somewhat among agencies; for example, the USDA currently charges $0.20 per page for photocopying and $15 to $40 per hour for search charges, depending on the complexity of the search. If the total fee does not exceed $25.00, the USDA will not charge you a fee at all. There may be additional fees for aerial photographs or negatives of pictures. Black and white or color enlargements, slides, microfilm, scans, and audio/videotape reproductions can also be ordered for an additional fee from most administrative agencies. In New York, there is a $0.25 per page copying fee “or the actual cost of reproducing” the records which may include the hourly salary of the lowest paid employee with the skills necessary to complete the request. See Public Officers Law § 87(1)(b)-(c).
At this time, you may also request a fee waiver. Your fees will only be waived if you can persuade the government that it is within the public interest to disclose the document. Waivers are not granted in cases in which an individual livestock producer is not be able to pay the fee–public interest must be argued. If you do not pay your fee, most administrative agencies will begin levying interest charges on an unpaid bill. If affordability is a deterrent for obtaining a FOIA request, as noted above, you should state a maximum fee that you are willing to pay in your original request (e.g., $100.00 or $250.00 maximum).
This is an excerpt from my first book that I co-authored with Pat Dillon, an Iowa agriculture lawyer titled “Field Manual: Legal Guide for New York Farmers and Food Entrepreneurs” available on CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle and iBooks. You can find out more about this book here.