304.9 Fees.§ 304.9 Fees.
(a) In general. The agency will charge for processing requests under the FOIA in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section and with the OMB Guidelines. The agency ordinarily will collect all applicable fees before sending copies of requested records to a requester. Requesters must pay fees by check or money order made payable to the Treasury of the United States.
(b) Definitions. For purposes of this section:
(1) “Commercial use request” means a request from or on behalf of a person who seeks information for a use or purpose that furthers his or her commercial, trade, or profit interests, including furthering those interests through litigation. The agency will determine, whenever reasonably possible, the use to which a requester will put the requested records. When it appears that the requester will put the records to a commercial use, either because of the nature of the request itself or because the agency has reasonable cause to doubt a requester's stated use, the agency will provide the requester a reasonable opportunity to submit further clarification.
(2) “Direct costs” means those expenses that an agency actually incurs in searching for and duplicating (and, in the case of commercial use requests, reviewing) records to respond to a FOIA request. Direct costs include, for example, the salary of the employee performing the work (the basic rate of pay for the employee, plus 16 percent of that rate to cover benefits) and the cost of operating duplication machinery. Not included in direct costs are overhead expenses such as the costs of space and heating or lighting of the facility in which the records are kept.
(3) “Duplication” means the making of 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. The agency will honor a requester's specified preference of form or format of disclosure if the record is readily reproducible with reasonable efforts in the requested form or format.
(4) “Educational institution” means a preschool, a public or private elementary or secondary school, an institution of undergraduate higher education, an institution of graduate higher education, an institution of professional education, or an institution of vocational education, that operates a program of scholarly research. To qualify under this category, a requester must show that the request is authorized by and is made under the auspices of a qualifying institution and that the records are not sought for a commercial use but are sought to further scholarly research.
(5) “Noncommercial scientific institution” means an institution that is not operated on a “commercial” basis, as that term is 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. To qualify under this category, a requester must show that the request is authorized by and is made under the auspices of a qualifying institution and that the records are not sought for a commercial use but are sought to further scientific research.
(6) “Representative of the news media,” or “news-media requester,” means any person or entity that 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. For this purpose, 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 are television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at large and publishers of periodicals (but only if such entities qualify as disseminators of “news”) who make their products available for purchase by or subscription by or free distribution to the general public. These examples are not all-inclusive. Moreover, as methods of news delivery evolve (for example, the adoption of the electronic dissemination of newspapers through telecommunications services), such alternative media shall be considered to be news-media entities. A freelance journalist shall be regarded as working for a news-media entity if the journalist can demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through that entity, whether or not the journalist is actually employed by the entity. A publication contract would present a solid basis for such an expectation; the agency may also consider the past publication record of the requester in making such a determination. To qualify under this category, a requester must not be seeking the requested records for a commercial use. A request for records supporting the news-dissemination function of the requester will not be considered to be for a commercial use.
(7) “Review” means the examination of a record located in response to a request in order to determine whether any portion of it is exempt from disclosure. It also includes processing any record for disclosure - for example, doing all that is necessary to redact it and prepare it for disclosure. Review costs are recoverable even if a record ultimately is not disclosed. Review time includes time spent considering any formal objection to disclosure made by a business submitter under § 304.7 but does not include time spent resolving general legal or policy issues regarding the application of exemptions.
(8) “Search” means the process of looking for and retrieving records or information responsive to a request. It includes page-by-page or line-by-line identification of information within records and also includes reasonable efforts to locate and retrieve information from records maintained in electronic form or format. The agency will conduct searches in the most efficient and least expensive manner reasonably possible. For example, it will not search on a line-by-line basis where duplicating an entire document would be quicker and less expensive.
(c) Fees charged. In responding to FOIA requests, the agency will charge the following fees unless a waiver or reduction of fees has been granted under paragraph (k) of this section:
(1) Search. (i) Search fees will be charged for all requests (other than requests made by educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media) subject to the limitations of paragraph (d) of this section. The agency may charge for time spent searching even if it does not locate any responsive record or if it withholds the record(s) located as entirely exempt from disclosure.
(ii) For each quarter hour spent by clerical personnel in searching for and retrieving a requested record, the fee will be $5.00. Where a search and retrieval cannot be performed entirely by clerical personnel (for example, where the identification of records within the scope of a request requires the use of professional personnel) the fee will be $10.00 for each quarter hour of search time spent by professional personnel. Where the time of managerial personnel is required, the fee will be $15.00 for each quarter hour of time spent by those personnel.
(iii) For computer searches of records, requesters will be charged the direct costs of conducting the search, although certain requesters (as provided in paragraph (d)(1) of this section) will be charged no search fee and certain other requesters (as provided in paragraph (d)(3) of this section) will be entitled to the cost equivalent of two hours of manual search time without charge. These direct costs will include the costs of operator/programmer salary apportionable to the search.
(2) Duplication. Duplication fees will be charged to all requesters, subject to the limitations of paragraph (d) of this section. For a paper photocopy of a record (no more than one copy of which need be supplied), the fee will be ten cents per page. For copies produced by computer, such as tapes, disks, or printouts, the agency will charge the direct costs, including operator time, of producing the copy. For other forms of duplication, the agency will charge the direct costs of that duplication.
(3) Review. Review fees will be charged to requesters who make a commercial use request. Review fees will be charged only for the initial record review, when the agency determines whether an exemption applies to a particular record or record portion at the initial request level. No charge will be made for review at the administrative appeal level regarding an exemption already applied. However, records or record portions withheld under an exemption that is subsequently determined not to apply may be reviewed again to determine whether any other exemption not previously considered applies; the costs of that review are chargeable where it is made necessary by such a change of circumstances. Review fees will be charged at the same rates as those used for a search under paragraph (c)(1)(ii) of this section.
(d) Limitations on charging fees. (1) No search fee will be charged for requests by educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media.
(2) No search fee or review fee will be charged for a quarter-hour period unless more than half of that period is required for search or review.
(3) Except for requesters seeking records for a commercial use, the agency will provide without charge:
(i) The first 100 pages of duplication (or the cost equivalent); and
(ii) The first two hours of search (or the cost equivalent).
(4) Whenever a total fee calculated under paragraph (c) of this section is $20.00 or less for any request, no fee will be charged.
(5) The provisions of paragraphs (d)(3) and (4) of this section work together. This means that for requesters other than those seeking records for a commercial use, no fee will be charged unless the cost of search in excess of two hours plus the cost of duplication in excess of 100 pages totals more than $20.00.
(6) (i) If the agency 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)(6)(ii)-(iv).
(ii) If the agency has determined that unusual circumstances as defined by the FOIA apply and the agency provided timely written notice to the requester in accordance with the FOIA, a failure to comply with the time limit will be excused for an additional 10 working days.
(iii) If the agency has determined that unusual circumstances, as defined by the FOIA, apply and more than 5,000 pages are necessary to respond to the request, the agency 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 agency must have provided timely written notice of unusual circumstances to the requester in accordance with the FOIA and the agency 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 agency may charge all applicable fees incurred in the processing of this request.
(iv) If a court has determined that exceptional circumstances exist, as defined by the FOIA, a failure to comply with the time limits will be excused for the length of time provided by the court order.
(e) Notice of anticipated fees in excess of $50.00. (1) When the agency determines or estimates that the fees to be charged under this section will amount to more than $50.00, it will notify the requester of the actual or estimated amount of the fees, 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 agency will advise the requester that the estimated fee might be only a portion of the total fee. In cases in which a requester has been notified that actual or estimated fees amount to more than $50.00, the request will not be considered received and further work will not be done on it until the requester agrees to pay the total anticipated fee. Any such agreement should be memorialized in writing. A notice under this paragraph will offer the requester an opportunity to discuss the matter with agency personnel in order to reformulate the request to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.
(2) If the requester has indicated a willingness to pay some designated amount of fees, but the agency estimates that the total fee will exceed that amount, the agency will suspend the processing of the request when it notifies the requester of the estimated fees in excess of the amount the requester has indicated a willingness to pay. The agency will inquire whether the requester wishes to revise the amount of fees the requester is willing to pay or modify the request. Once the requester responds, the time to respond will resume from where it was at the date of the notification.
(3) The agency will make its FOIA Public Liaison available to assist any requester in reformulating a request to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.
(f) Charges for other services. Apart from the other provisions of this section, when the agency chooses as a matter of administrative discretion to provide a special service - such as certifying that records are true copies or sending them by other than ordinary mail - the direct costs of providing the service ordinarily will be charged.
(g) Charging interest. The agency may charge interest on any unpaid bill starting on the 31st day following the date of the billing of the requester. Interest charges will be assessed at the rate provided in 31 U.S.C. 3717 and will accrue from the date of the billing until payment is received by the agency. The agency will follow the provisions of the Debt Collection Act of 1982, Public Law 97-365, 96 Stat. 1749, as amended, and regulations pursuant thereto.
(h) Aggregating requests. Wherever the agency reasonably believes that a requester or a group of requesters acting together is attempting to divide a request into a series of requests for the purpose of avoiding fees, it may aggregate those requests and charge accordingly. In so doing, it will presume that multiple requests of this type made within a 30-day period have been made in order to avoid fees. Where requests are separated by a longer period, the agency will aggregate them only where there exists a solid basis for determining that aggregation is warranted under 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 (i)(3) of this section, the agency will not require the requester to make an advance payment - in other words, a payment made before work is begun or continued on a request. Payment owed for work already completed (i.e., a prepayment before copies are sent to a requester) is not an advance payment.
(2) Where the agency determines or estimates that a total fee to be charged under this section will be more than $250.00, it may require the requester to make an advance payment of an amount up to the amount of the entire anticipated fee before beginning to process the request, except where it receives a satisfactory assurance of full payment from a requester that has a history of prompt payment.
(3) Where a requester has previously failed to pay a properly charged FOIA fee to the agency within 30 calendar days of the date of billing, the agency may require the requester to pay the full amount due, plus any applicable interest, and to make an advance payment of the full amount of any anticipated fee, before it begins to process a new request or continues to process a pending request from that requester.
(4) In cases in which the agency requires advance payment or payment due under paragraph (i)(2) or (i)(3) of this section, the request will not be considered received and further work will not be done on it until the required payment is received.
(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 cases in which records responsive to requests are maintained for distribution by another agency under such a statutorily based fee schedule program, ACUS will inform the requesters of the steps for obtaining records from those sources so that they may do so most economically.
(k) Requirements for waiver or reduction of fees. (1) Requesters may seek a waiver of fees by submitting a written application demonstrating how 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 is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
(2) The agency will furnish records responsive to a request without charge or at a reduced rate when it determines, based on all available information, that the factors described in paragraphs (k)(2)(i) through (iii) of this section are satisfied:
(i) Disclosure of the requested information would shed light on the operations or activities of the government. The subject of the requested records 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 information is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of those operations or activities. This factor is satisfied when the following criteria are met:
(A) Disclosure of the requested records must be meaningfully informative about government 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 be meaningfully informative if nothing new would be added to the public's understanding.
(B) 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 the requester's ability and intention to convey information effectively to the public will be considered. The agency will presume that a representative of the news media satisfies this consideration.
(iii) The disclosure must not be primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. To determine whether disclosure of the requested information is primarily in the commercial interest of the requester, the agency will consider the following criteria:
(A) Whether the requester has any commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. A commercial interest includes any commercial, trade, or profit interest. Requesters will be given an opportunity to provide explanatory information regarding this consideration.
(B) Whether any identified commercial interest is the primary interest furthered by the request. A waiver or reduction of fees is justified when the requirements of paragraphs (k)(2)(i) and (ii) of this section are satisfied and any commercial interest is not the primary interest furthered by the request. The agency ordinarily will presume that when a news media requester has satisfied factors in paragraphs (k)(2)(i) and (ii) of this section, the request is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. Disclosure to data brokers or others who merely compile and market government information for direct economic return will not be presumed primarily to serve the public interest.
(3) Where only some of the records to be released satisfy the requirements for a waiver of fees, a waiver will be granted for those records.
(4) Requests for a waiver or reduction of fees should ordinarily be made when the request is first submitted to the agency 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 must pay any costs incurred up to the date the fee waiver request was received.[76 FR 18635, Apr. 5, 2011, as amended at 82 FR 7633, Jan. 23, 2017]