According to the Department of Justice Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for FY 2017, almost $3 million dollars were collected in FOIA fees last year. Whether you’re new to FOIA or a seasoned vet, there’s a pretty high chance that the records you need will come at a price. Best case scenario, your charges are reasonable enough to pay out-of-pocket or your fee waiver is approved. You get the docs and you move on with life, easy! Other times, things don’t bode as well as you are forced to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in search, review, and duplication costs.
Fees are the most frequent contentious point of filing in the whole FOIA process for those inside and outside of government. With strong differences between federal FOIA and state public records laws, fees can differ depending on jurisdiction guidelines.
For example, Iowa has pretty vague fee practices. The law states that each agency is in charge of its own fee charges, as long as they are “at a reasonable amount.” On the other hand, states like Montana have set laws that mandate statewide copying and search fees. Montana charges ten cents per page to copy and the first half hour of search time is free, afterwards there is an $8.50 an hour charge. Typically, agencies assess fees based on the lowest paid employee possible to do the job, but even then, sometimes that “lowest paid employee” can be a lawyer. (Read more...)