Department of State

Freedom of Information: Charge modest fees to all requesters

The FOIA exempts certain requesters from paying fees, and establishes several categories of requesters eligible for fee waivers. Consequently, this program - which at passage in 1966 was assumed would be self-financing - now imposes a significant cost to the US budget. In FY 2010, for only the State Department, over 18,000 requests and appeals were processed at a total cost of $11.4 million, for an average per-request cost of roughly $600. Fees collected by State in FY 2010 totalled $9,711, or 0.09% of costs. I suggest that ALL requesters pay a modest fee (such as $25.00) when they submit their request. For this fee, agencies would search ELECTRONIC records, review them to excise sensitive material (as specified in FOIA), and send the records to requesters. Searches of PAPER files would be charged substantially more (such as $250.00) since paper searches are far more complicated and labor intensive. If a request results in more than 100 pages, an additional fee would be charged (such as $.25 per page). FOIA also provides that requesters can appeal agency decisions at no cost. This has led to almost automatic appeals from many requesters. I suggest than an additional fee (such as $25.00) be chargedrequired for each appeal. Modest standard charges and eliminating complicated waiver categories would not only recover more of the program's costs but also reduce costs by discouraging trivial and unreasonable requests, and reduce processing time. Charging such fees would still recover only a small part of costs. However, given the importance of encouraging government openness and accountability, it would be inappropriate to charge large fees that could be burdensome. To establish a balance between reducing costs and encouraging openess, I suggest that OMB set a "coverage goal" - for example, that the combination of increased fees and cost savings lead to a situation within five years where roughly 10% of FOIA costs would be financed by requesters.

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Idea No. 16087