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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations
Title 15: Commerce and Foreign Trade
Subpart A—Freedom of Information Act
§4.2 Public reference facilities.
§4.3 Records under the FOIA.
§4.4 Requirements for making requests.
§4.5 Responsibility for responding to requests.
§4.6 Time limits and expedited processing.
§4.7 Responses to requests.
§4.8 Classified Information.
§4.9 Business Information.
§4.10 Appeals from initial determinations or untimely delays.
(a) The information in this part is furnished for the guidance of the public and in compliance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as amended (5 U.S.C. 552). This part sets forth the procedures the Department of Commerce (Department) and its components follow to make publicly available the materials and indices specified in 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2) and records requested under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3). Information routinely provided to the public as part of a regular Department activity (for example, press releases issued by the Office of Public Affairs) may be provided to the public without following this part.
(b) As used in this subpart, component means any office, division, bureau or other unit of the Department listed in Appendix A to this part (except that a regional office of a larger office or other unit does not constitute a separate component).
§4.2 Public reference facilities.
(a) The Department maintains public reference facilities (listed in Appendix A to this part) that contain the records the FOIA requires to be made regularly available for public inspection and copying; furnishes information; receives and processes requests for records under the FOIA; and otherwise assists the public concerning Department operations under the FOIA.
(b) Each component of the Department shall determine which of its records are required to be made available for public inspection and copying, and make those records available either in its own public reference facility or in the Department's Central Reference and Records Inspection Facility. Each component shall maintain and make available for public inspection and copying a current subject-matter index of its public inspection facility records. Each index shall be updated regularly, at least quarterly, with respect to newly included records. In accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2), the Department has determined that it is unnecessary and impracticable to publish quarterly or more frequently and distribute copies of the index and supplements thereto.
(c) Each component shall make public inspection facility records created on or after November 1, 1996 available electronically through the Department's “FOIA Home Page” link found at the Department's World Wide Web site (http://www.doc.gov). Information available at the site shall include:
(1) Each component's index of its public inspection facility records, which indicates which records are available electronically; and
(2) The general index referred to in paragraph (d)(3) of this section.
(d) The Department shall maintain and make available for public inspection and copying:
(1) A current index providing identifying information for the public as to any matter that is issued, adopted, or promulgated after July 4, 1997, and that is retained as a record and is required to be made available or published. Copies of the index are available upon request after payment of the direct cost of duplication;
(2) Copies of records that have been released and that the component that maintains them determines, because of their subject matter, have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records;
(3) A general index of the records described in paragraph (d)(2) of this section;
(4) Final opinions and orders, including concurring and dissenting opinions made in the adjudication of cases;
(5) Those statements of policy and interpretations that have been adopted by a component and are not published in the Federal Register; and
(6) Administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public.
§4.3 Records under the FOIA.
(a) Records under the FOIA include all Government records, regardless of format, medium or physical characteristics, and include electronic records and information, audiotapes, videotapes, and photographs.
(b) Under the FOIA, the Department has no obligation to create, compile, or obtain from outside the Department a record to satisfy a request. In complying with a request for electronic data, whether the Department creates or compiles records (as by undertaking significant programming work) or merely extracts them from an existing database may be unclear. The Department shall in any case undertake reasonable efforts to search for the information in electronic format.
(c) Department officials may, upon request, create and provide new records pursuant to user fee statutes, such as the first paragraph of 15 U.S.C. 1525, or in accordance with authority otherwise provided by law. Such creation and provision of records is outside the scope of the FOIA.
(d) Components shall preserve all correspondence pertaining to the requests they receive under this subpart, as well as copies of all requested records, until disposition or destruction is authorized by Title 44 of the United States Code or the National Archives and Records Administration's General Records Schedule 14. Components shall not dispose of records while they are the subject of a pending request, appeal, or lawsuit under the FOIA.
§4.4 Requirements for making requests.
(a) A request for records of the Department which are not customarily made available to the public as part of the Department's regular informational services must be in writing (and may be sent by mail, facsimile, or E-mail), and shall be processed under the FOIA, regardless whether the FOIA is mentioned in the request. Requests should be mailed to the Department component identified in Appendix A to this part that maintains those records, or may be sent by facsimile or E-mail to the numbers or addresses, respectively, listed at the Department's “FOIA Home Page” link found at the Department's World Wide Web site (http://www.doc.gov).1 If the proper component cannot be determined, the request should be sent to the central facility identified in Appendix A to this part. The central facility will forward the request to the component(s) it believes most likely to have the requested records. For the quickest handling, the request (and envelope, if the request is mailed) should be marked “Freedom of Information Act Request.”
1The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which is established as an agency of the United States within the Department of Commerce, operates under its own FOIA regulations at 37 CFR part 102, subpart A. Accordingly, requests for USPTO records should be sent directly to the USPTO.
(b) For requests for records about oneself, §4.24 contains additional requirements. For requests for records about another individual, either a written authorization signed by the individual permitting disclosure of his or her records to the requester or proof that the individual is deceased (for example, a copy of a death certificate or an obituary) facilitates processing the request.
(c) The records requested must be described in enough detail to enable Department personnel to locate them with a reasonable amount of effort. If possible, a request should include specific information about each record sought, such as the date, title or name, author, recipient, and subject matter of the record, and the name and location of the office where the record is located. Also, if records about a court case are sought, the title of the case, the court in which the case was filed, and the nature of the case should be included. If known, any file designations or descriptions of the requested records should be included. In general, the more specifically the request describes the records sought, the greater the likelihood that the Department will be able to locate those records. If a component determines that a request does not reasonably describe records, it shall inform the requester what additional information is needed or how the request is otherwise insufficient, to enable the requester to modify the request to meet the requirements of this section.
§4.5 Responsibility for responding to requests.
(a) In general. Except as stated in paragraph (b) of this section, the proper component of the Department to respond to a request for records is the component that first receives the request and has responsive records, or the component to which the Departmental Freedom of Information Officer assigns lead responsibility for responding to the request. Records responsive to a request shall include those records within the Department's possession and control as of the date the Department begins its search for them.
(b) Consultations and referrals. If a component receives a request for a record in its possession in which another Federal agency subject to the FOIA has the primary interest, the component shall refer the record to that agency for direct response to the requester. Ordinarily, the agency that originated a record will be presumed to have the primary interest in it. A component shall consult with another Federal agency before responding to a requester if the component receives a request for a record in which another Federal agency subject to the FOIA has a significant interest, but not the primary interest; or another Federal agency not subject to the FOIA has the primary interest or a significant interest (see §4.8 for additional information about referrals of classified information).
(c) Notice of referral. Whenever a component refers a document to another Federal agency for direct response to the requester, it ordinarily shall notify the requester in writing of the referral and inform the requester of the name of the agency to which the document was referred.
(d) Timing of responses to consultations and referrals. All consultations and referrals shall be handled in chronological order, based on when the FOIA request was received by the first Federal agency.
(e) Agreements regarding consultations and referrals. Components may make agreements with other Federal agencies to eliminate the need for consultations or referrals for particular types of records.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 71 FR 31073, June 1, 2006]
§4.6 Time limits and expedited processing.
(a) In general. Components ordinarily shall respond to requests according to their order of receipt.
(b) Initial response and appeal. Subject to paragraph (c)(1) of this section, an initial response shall be made within 20 working days (i.e., excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) of the receipt of a request for a record under this part by the proper component identified in accordance with §4.5(a), and an appeal shall be decided within 20 working days of its receipt by the Office of the General Counsel.
(c) Unusual circumstances. (1) In unusual circumstances as specified in paragraph (c)(2) of this section, an official listed in Appendix B to this part may extend the time limits in paragraph (b) of this section by notifying the requester in writing as soon as practicable of the unusual circumstances and of the date by which processing of the request is expected to be completed. If the extension is for more than ten working days, the component shall provide the requester an opportunity either to modify the request so that it may be processed within the applicable time limit, or to arrange an alternative time frame for processing the request or a modified request.
(2) As used in this section, unusual circumstances means, but only to the extent reasonably necessary to properly process the particular request:
(i) The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments separate from the office processing the request;
(ii) The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are the subject of a single request; or
(iii) The need for consultation, which shall be conducted with all practicable speed, with another component or Federal agency having a substantial interest in the determination of the request.
(3) If a component reasonably believes that multiple requests submitted by a requester, or by a group of requesters acting in concert, constitute a single request that would otherwise involve unusual circumstances, and the requests involve clearly related matters, the component may aggregate them. Multiple requests involving unrelated matters will not be aggregated.
(d) Multitrack processing. (1) A component may use two or more processing tracks by distinguishing between simple and more complex requests based on the number of pages involved, or some other measure of the amount of work and/or time needed to process the request, and whether the request qualifies for expedited processing as described in paragraph (e) of this section.
(2) A component using multitrack processing may provide requesters in its slower track(s) with an opportunity to limit the scope of their requests in order to qualify for faster processing. A component doing so shall contact the requester by telephone, E-mail, or letter, whichever is most efficient in each case.
(e) Expedited processing. (1) Requests and appeals shall be taken out of order and given expedited treatment whenever it is determined that they involve:
(i) Circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual;
(ii) The loss of substantial due process rights;
(iii) A matter of widespread and exceptional media interest involving questions about the Government's integrity which affect public confidence; or
(iv) An urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information.
(2) A request for expedited processing may be made at the time of the initial request for records or at any later time. For a prompt determination, a request for expedited processing should be sent to the component listed in Appendix A to this part that maintains the records requested.
(3) A requester who seeks expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct to the best of that person's knowledge and belief, explaining in detail the basis for requesting expedited processing. For example, a requester within the category described in paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section, if not a full-time member of the news media, must establish that he or she is a person whose main professional activity or occupation is information dissemination, though it need not be his or her sole occupation. A requester within the category described in paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section must also establish a particular urgency to inform the public about the Government activity involved in the request, beyond the public's right to know about Government activity generally.
(4) Within ten calendar days of its receipt of a request for expedited processing, the proper component shall decide whether to grant it and shall notify the requester of the decision. Solely for purposes of calculating the foregoing time limit, any request for expedited processing shall always be considered received on the actual date of receipt by the proper component. If a request for expedited processing is granted, the request shall be given priority and processed as soon as practicable, subject to §4.11(i). If a request for expedited processing is denied, any appeal of that decision shall be acted on expeditiously.
§4.7 Responses to requests.
(a) Grants of requests. If a component makes a determination to grant a request in whole or in part, it shall notify the requester in writing. The component shall inform the requester in the notice of any fee to be charged under §4.11 and disclose records to the requester promptly upon payment of any applicable fee. Records disclosed in part shall be marked or annotated to show the applicable FOIA exemption(s) and the amount of information deleted, unless doing so would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption. The location of the information deleted shall also be indicated on the record, if feasible.
(b) Adverse determinations of requests. If a component makes an adverse determination regarding a request, it shall notify the requester of that determination in writing. An adverse determination is a denial of a request in any respect, namely: a determination to withhold any requested record in whole or in part; a determination that a requested record does not exist or cannot be located; a determination that a record is not readily reproducible in the form or format sought by the requester; a determination that what has been requested is not a record subject to the FOIA (except that a determination under §4.11(j) that records are to be made available under a fee statute other than the FOIA is not an adverse determination); a determination against the requester on any disputed fee matter, including a denial of a request for a reduction or waiver of fees; or a denial of a request for expedited processing. Each denial letter shall be signed by an official listed in Appendix B to this part, and shall include:
(1) The name and title or position of the denying official;
(2) A brief statement of the reason(s) for the denial, including applicable FOIA exemption(s);
(3) An estimate of the volume of records or information withheld, in number of pages or some other reasonable form of estimation. This estimate need not be provided if the volume is otherwise indicated through deletions on records disclosed in part, or if providing an estimate would harm an interest protected by an applicable FOIA exemption; and
(4) A statement that the denial may be appealed, and a list of the requirements for filing an appeal under §4.10(b).
§4.8 Classified Information.
In processing a request for information classified under Executive Order 12958 or any other executive order concerning the classification of records, the information shall be reviewed to determine whether it should remain classified. Ordinarily the component or other Federal agency that classified the information should conduct the review, except that if a record contains information that has been derivatively classified by a component because it contains information classified by another component or agency, the component shall refer the responsibility for responding to the request to the component or agency that classified the underlying information. Information determined to no longer require classification shall not be withheld on the basis of FOIA exemption (b)(1) (5 U.S.C. 552(b)(1)), but should be reviewed to assess whether any other FOIA exemptions should be invoked. Appeals involving classified information shall be processed in accordance with §4.10(c).
§4.9 Business Information.
(a) In general. Business information obtained by the Department from a submitter will be disclosed under the FOIA only under this section.
(b) Definitions. For the purposes of this section:
(1) Business information means commercial or financial information, obtained by the Department from a submitter, which may be protected from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(4) (5 U.S.C. 552(b)(4)).
(2) Submitter means any person or entity outside the Federal Government from which the Department obtains business information, directly or indirectly. The term includes corporations; state, local and tribal governments; and foreign governments.
(c) Designation of business information. A submitter of business information should designate by appropriate markings, either at the time of submission or at a reasonable time thereafter, any portions of its submission that it considers protected from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(4). These designations will expire ten years after the date of the submission unless the submitter requests, and provides justification for, a longer period.
(d) Notice to submitters. A component shall provide a submitter with prompt written notice of a FOIA request or administrative appeal that seeks its business information whenever required under paragraph (e) of this section, except as provided in paragraph (h) of this section, in order to give the submitter an opportunity under paragraph (f) of this section to object to disclosure of any specified portion of that information. Such written notice shall be sent via certified mail, return receipt requested, or similar means. The notice shall either describe the business information requested or include copies of the requested records containing the information. If notification of a large number of submitters is required, notification may be made by posting or publishing the notice in a place reasonably likely to accomplish notification.
(e) When notice is required. Notice shall be given to the submitter whenever:
(1) The submitter has designated the information in good faith as protected from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(4); or
(2) The component has reason to believe that the information may be protected from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(4).
(f) Opportunity to object to disclosure. A component shall allow a submitter seven working days (i.e., excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) from the date of receipt of the written notice described in paragraph (d) of this section to provide the component with a statement of any objection to disclosure. The statement must identify any portions of the information the submitter requests to be withheld under FOIA exemption (b)(4), and describe how each qualifies for protection under the exemption: that is, why the information is a trade secret, or commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential. If a submitter fails to respond to the notice within the time specified, the submitter will be considered to have no objection to disclosure of the information. Information a submitter provides under this paragraph may itself be subject to disclosure under the FOIA.
(g) Notice of intent to disclose. A component shall consider a submitter's objections and specific grounds under the FOIA for nondisclosure in deciding whether to disclose business information. If a component decides to disclose business information over a submitter's objection, the component shall give the submitter written notice via certified mail, return receipt requested, or similar means, which shall include:
(1) A statement of reason(s) why the submitter's objections to disclosure were not sustained;
(2) A description of the business information to be disclosed; and
(3) A statement that the component intends to disclose the information seven working days from the date the submitter receives the notice.
(h) Exceptions to notice requirements. The notice requirements of paragraphs (d) and (g) of this section shall not apply if:
(1) The component determines that the information should not be disclosed;
(2) The information has been lawfully published or has been officially made available to the public;
(3) Disclosure of the information is required by statute (other than the FOIA) or by a regulation issued in accordance with Executive Order 12600; or
(4) The designation made by the submitter under paragraph (c) of this section appears obviously frivolous, in which case the component shall provide the submitter written notice of any final decision to disclose the information seven working days from the date the submitter receives the notice.
(i) Notice to submitter of FOIA lawsuit. Whenever a requester files a lawsuit seeking to compel the disclosure of business information, the component shall promptly notify the submitter.
(j) Corresponding notice to requester. Whenever a component provides a submitter with notice and an opportunity to object to disclosure under paragraph (d) of this section, the component shall also notify the requester. Whenever a submitter files a lawsuit seeking to prevent the disclosure of business information, the component shall notify the requester.
§4.10 Appeals from initial determinations or untimely delays.
(a) If a request for records is initially denied in whole or in part, or has not been timely determined, or if a requester receives an adverse initial determination regarding any other matter under this subpart (as described in §4.7(b)), the requester may file a written appeal or an electronic appeal, which must be received by the Office of General Counsel during normal business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday) within thirty calendar days of the date of the written denial or, if there has been no determination, may be submitted anytime after the due date, including the last extension under §4.6(c), of the determination. Written or electronic appeals arriving after normal business hours will be deemed received on the next normal business day.
(b) Appeals shall be decided by the Assistant General Counsel for Administration (AGC-Admin), except that appeals for records which were initially denied by the AGC-Admin shall be decided by the General Counsel. Written appeals should be addressed to the AGC-Admin, or the General Counsel if the records were initially denied by the AGC-Admin. The address of both is: U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of General Counsel, Room 5875, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230. An appeal may also be sent via facsimile at 202-482-2552. For a written appeal, both the letter and the appeal envelope should be clearly marked “Freedom of Information Appeal”. The address for electronic appeals is FOIAAppeals@doc.gov. The appeal (written or electronic) must include a copy of the original request and the initial denial, if any, and a statement of the reasons why the records requested should be made available and why the initial denial, if any, was in error. No opportunity for personal appearance, oral argument or hearing on appeal is provided.
(c) Upon receipt of an appeal involving records initially denied on the basis of FOIA exemption (b)(1), the records shall be forwarded to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Security (DAS) for a declassification review. The DAS may overrule previous classification determinations in whole or in part if continued protection in the interest of national security is no longer required, or no longer required at the same level. The DAS shall advise the AGC-Admin, or the General Counsel, as appropriate, of his or her decision.
(d) If an appeal is granted, the person who filed the appeal shall be immediately notified and copies of the releasable documents shall be made available promptly thereafter upon receipt of appropriate fees determined in accordance with §4.11.
(e) If no determination on an appeal has been sent to the requester within the twenty working day period specified in §4.6(b) or the last extension thereof, the requester is deemed to have exhausted all administrative remedies with respect to the request, giving rise to a right of judicial review under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(C). If the requester initiates a court action against the Department based on the provision in this paragraph, the administrative appeal process may continue.
(f) The determination on an appeal shall be in writing and, when it denies records in whole or in part, the letter to the requester shall include:
(1) A brief explanation of the basis for the denial, including a list of the applicable FOIA exemptions and a description of how they apply;
(2) A statement that the decision is final for the Department;
(3) Notification that judicial review of the denial is available in the district court of the United States in the district in which the requester resides, or has his or her principal place of business, or in which the agency records are located, or in the District of Columbia; and
(4) The name and title or position of the official responsible for denying the appeal.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 69 FR 49784, Aug. 12, 2004]
(a) In general. Components shall charge for processing requests under the FOIA in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section, except when fees are limited under paragraph (d) of this section or when a waiver or reduction of fees is granted under paragraph (k) of this section. A component shall 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, which can include furthering those interests through litigation. Components shall determine, whenever reasonably possible, the use to which a requester will put the requested records. If it appears that the requester will put the records to a commercial use, or if a component has reasonable cause to doubt a requester's asserted non-commercial use, the component shall provide the requester a reasonable opportunity to submit further clarification.
(2) Direct costs means those expenses a component incurs in providing a particular service. Such expenses would include, for example, the labor costs of the employee performing the service (the basic rate of pay for the employee, plus 16 percent of that rate to cover benefits). Not included in direct costs are overhead expenses such as the costs of space, heating, or lighting of the facility in which the service is performed.
(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 may take the form of paper, microform, audiovisual materials, or electronic records (for example, magnetic tape or disk), among others. A component shall honor a requester's specified preference of form or format of disclosure if the component can reproduce the record in the requested form or format with reasonable effort.
(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 be in 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 sought to further scholarly research rather than for a commercial use.
(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 be in 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 sought to further scientific research rather than for a commercial use.
(6) Representative of the news media, or news media requester means any person actively gathering news for an entity that is organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. 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 include television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at large and publishers of periodicals (but only if they can qualify as disseminators of “news”) that make their products available for purchase or subscription by the general public. For “freelance” journalists to be regarded as working for a news organization, they must demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through that organization. A publication contract would be the clearest proof, but components shall also look to the past publication record of a requester in making this determination. To be in this category, a requester must not be seeking the requested records for a commercial use. However, a request for records supporting the news-dissemination function of the requester shall 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, redacting it and marking any applicable exemptions. Review costs are recoverable even if a record ultimately is not disclosed. Review time 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. Components shall ensure that searches are done in the most efficient and least expensive manner reasonably possible.
(c) Fees. In responding to FOIA requests, components shall charge the fees summarized in chart form in paragraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2) of this section and explained in paragraphs (c)(3) through (c)(5) of this section, unless a waiver or reduction of fees has been granted under paragraph (k) of this section.
(1) The four categories and chargeable fees are:
(2) Uniform fee schedule.
(3) Search. (i) Search fees shall 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. Components shall charge for time spent searching even if they do not locate any responsive records or if they withhold any records located as entirely exempt from disclosure. Search fees shall be the direct costs of conducting the search by the involved employees.
(ii) 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) are entitled to the cost equivalent of two hours of manual search time without charge.
(4) Duplication. Duplication fees shall 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 shall be $.16 cents per page. For copies produced by computer, such as tapes or printouts, components shall charge the direct costs, including operator time, of producing the copy. For other forms of duplication, components shall charge the direct costs of that duplication.
(5) Review. Review fees shall be charged to requesters who make a commercial use request. Review fees shall be charged only for the initial record review, in which a component determines whether an exemption applies to a particular record at the initial request level. No charge shall be imposed for review at the administrative appeal level for an exemption already applied. However, records 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, and the costs of that review are chargeable. Review fees shall be the direct costs of conducting the review by the involved employees.
(d) Limitations on charging fees. (1) No search fee shall be charged for requests from educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media.
(2) No search fee or review fee shall 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, components shall 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) If a total fee calculated under paragraph (c) of this section is $20.00 or less for any request, no fee shall be charged. If such total fee is more than $20.00, the full amount of such fee shall 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 shall 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.
(e) Notice of anticipated fees over $20.00. If a component determines or estimates that the total fee to be charged under this section will be more than $20.00, the component shall notify the requester of the actual or estimated fee, unless the requester has stated in writing a willingness to pay a fee as high as that anticipated. If only a portion of the fee can be estimated readily, the component shall advise the requester that the estimated fee may be only a portion of the total fee. If the component has notified a requester that the actual or estimated fee is more than $20.00, the component shall not consider the request received for purposes of calculating the time limit in §4.6(b) to respond to a request, or process it further, until the requester agrees to pay the anticipated total fee. Any agreement to pay should be memorialized in writing. A notice under this paragraph shall offer the requester an opportunity to contact Departmental personnel to discuss modifying the request to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.
(f) Charges for other services. Apart from the other provisions of this section, if a component decides, as a matter of administrative discretion, to comply with a request for special services, the component shall charge the direct cost of providing them. Such services could include certifying that records are true copies or sending records by other than ordinary mail.
(g) Charging interest. Components shall charge interest on any unpaid bill starting on the 31st calendar day following the date of billing the requester. Interest charges shall be assessed at the rate provided in 31 U.S.C. 3717 and accrue from the date of the billing until the component receives payment. Components shall take all steps authorized by the Debt Collection Act of 1982, as amended by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, to effect payment, including offset, disclosure to consumer reporting agencies, and use of collection agencies.
(h) Aggregating requests. If a component 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, the component may aggregate those requests and charge accordingly. Among the factors a component shall consider in deciding whether to aggregate are the closeness in time between the component's receipt of the requests, and the relatedness of the matters about which the requests are made. A component may generally presume that multiple requests that involve related matters made by the same requester or a closely related group of requesters within a 30 calendar day period have been made in order to avoid fees. If requests are separated by a longer period, a component shall aggregate them only if a solid basis exists for determining that aggregation is warranted under all the circumstances involved. Multiple requests involving unrelated matters shall not be aggregated.
(i) Advance payments. (1) For requests other than those described in paragraphs (i)(2) and (3) of this section, a component shall not require the requester to make an advance payment: a payment made before work is begun or continued on a request. Payment owed for work already completed (i.e., a payment before copies are sent to a requester) is not an advance payment.
(2) If a component determines or estimates that a total fee to be charged under this section will be more than $250.00, the component shall not consider the request received for purposes of calculating the time limit in §4.6(b) to respond to a request, or process it further, until it receives payment from the requester of the entire anticipated fee.
(3) If a requester has previously failed to pay a properly charged FOIA fee to any component or other Federal agency within 30 calendar days of the date of billing, a component shall 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 the component begins to process a new request or continues to process a pending request from that requester. For purposes of calculating the time limit in §4.6(b) to respond to a request, the component shall not consider the request received until it receives full payment of all applicable fees and interest in this paragraph.
(4) Upon the completion of processing of a request, if a specific fee is determined to be payable and appropriate notice has been given to the requester, a component shall make records available to the requester only upon receipt of full payment of the fee.
(j) Other statutes specifically providing for fees. The fee schedule of this section does not apply to fees charged under any statute (except for the FOIA) that specifically requires an agency to set and collect fees for particular types of records. If records responsive to requests are maintained for distribution by agencies operating such statutorily based fee schedule programs, components shall inform requesters how to obtain records from those sources. Provision of such records is not handled under the FOIA.
(k) Requirements for waiver or reduction of fees. (1) Records responsive to a request will be furnished without charge, or at a charge reduced below that established under paragraph (c) of this section, if the requester asks for such a waiver in writing and the responsible component determines, after consideration of information provided by the requester, that the requester has demonstrated that:
(i) 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
(ii) Disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
(2) To determine whether the first fee waiver requirement is met, components shall consider the following factors:
(i) The subject of the request: whether the subject of the requested records concerns 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) The informative value of the information to be disclosed: whether the disclosure is “likely to contribute” to an understanding of Government operations or activities. The disclosable portions of the requested records must be meaningfully informative about Government operations or activities in order to be “likely to contribute” to an increased public understanding of those operations or activities. The disclosure of information that already is in the public domain, in either a duplicative or a substantially identical form, would not be likely to contribute to such understanding.
(iii) The contribution to an understanding of the subject by the public likely to result from disclosure: whether disclosure of the requested information will 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 and ability and intention to effectively convey information to the public shall be considered. It shall be presumed that a representative of the news media satisfies this consideration. Merely providing information to media sources is insufficient to satisfy this consideration.
(iv) The significance of the contribution to public understanding: whether the disclosure is likely to contribute “significantly” to public understanding of Government operations or activities. The public's understanding of the subject in question prior to the disclosure must be significantly enhanced by the disclosure.
(3) To determine whether the second fee waiver requirement (i.e., that disclosure is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester) is met, components shall consider the following factors:
(i) The existence and magnitude of a commercial interest: whether the requester has a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. Components shall consider any commercial interest of the requester (with reference to the definition of “commercial use request” in paragraph (b)(1) of this section), or of any person on whose behalf the requester may be acting, that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. Requesters shall be given an opportunity to provide explanatory information regarding this consideration.
(ii) The primary interest in disclosure: whether any identified commercial interest of the requester is sufficiently great, in comparison with the public interest in disclosure, that disclosure is “primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.” A fee waiver or reduction is justified if the public interest standard (paragraph (k)(1)(i) of this section) is satisfied and the public interest is greater than any identified commercial interest in disclosure. Components ordinarily shall presume that if a news media requester has satisfied the public interest standard, the public interest is the primary interest served by disclosure to that requester. Disclosure to data brokers or others who merely compile and market Government information for direct economic return shall not be presumed to primarily serve the public interest.
(4) If only some of the records to be released satisfy the requirements for a fee waiver, a waiver shall be granted for those records.
(5) Requests for the waiver or reduction of fees should address the factors listed in paragraphs (k)(2) and (3) of this section, insofar as they apply to each request.