National Freedom of Information Coalition
Protecting Your Right to Open Government

Policy changes on fee waivers

From NFOIC: COLUMBIA, Mo — If President Obama and leaders in Congress are serious about strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), they would do well to strip away some of the discretion agencies have to determine which requesters seek information “in the public interest “ and are “likely to contribute significantly to public understanding.”

In a well-written and well-documented report in Newsweek called entitled “Muzzling the Freedom of Information Act,” Pulitzer Prize winning journalist/author David Cay Johnston reveals trends and tendencies that are making it more expensive for authors, editors, producers, writers, and publishers to uncover government secret.

Much of it has to do with so-called “fee waivers.” Regular users, specialists and advocates for more transparency say government agencies are becoming more stingy with them, applying new criteria and standards for when public records sought under FOIA may be produced at no or minimal costs.

Under a 2007 law, news media representatives or any person gathering information to produce “distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience” should not be charged so-called search fees for find records and documents responsive to public information requests.

But recent interpretations, that can represent the difference of thousands of dollars in so-called search fees, include federal agencies denying fee waivers to book authors on grounds that theirs is a commercial enterprise and also issuing denials to freelancers and small publications on grounds their audience is insignificant.

Read more from Newsweek: