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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

e-CFR data is current as of March 26, 2020

Title 15Subtitle APart 4Subpart A → §4.11


Title 15: Commerce and Foreign Trade
PART 4—DISCLOSURE OF GOVERNMENT INFORMATION
Subpart A—Freedom of Information Act


§4.11   Fees.

(a) In general. Components shall charge fees for processing requests under the FOIA in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section, except where fees are limited under paragraph (d) of this section or when a waiver or reduction is granted under paragraph (l) of this section. A component shall collect all applicable fees before processing a request if a component determines that advance payment is required in accordance with paragraphs (i)(2) and (i)(3) of this section. If advance payment of fees is not required, 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 searching for and duplicating (and, in the case of commercial use requests, reviewing) records to respond to a FOIA request. The hourly processing fees for calculating direct costs for Department or component personnel searching for, duplication, and reviewing records are reflected in Table 1. Note that the 16% overhead has already been included in the hourly rates identified in Table 1.

Table 1—FOIA Hourly Processing Fees

TypeGradeHourly rate
AdministrativeE-9/GS-8 and below$28
ProfessionalContractor/O-1 to O-6/W-1 to W-5/GS-9 to GS-1556
ExecutiveO-7 and above and Senior Executive Service128

(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, among others. A component shall 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 is any school that operates a program of scholarly research. A requester in this fee category must show that the request is made in connection with his or her role at the educational institution. Educational institutions may include 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 A Department component may seek verification from the requester that the request is in furtherance of scholarly research and agencies will advise requesters of their placement in this category. Verification may be supported by a letter from a teacher, instructor, or professor written on the institution's letterhead or from an institutional email address and in which the body of the email outlines the research to be conducted. Student requests may be supported by evidence that the records are sought for the student's academic research purposes, for example, through evidence of a class assignment or a letter from a teacher, instructor, or professor. A component's decision to grant a requester educational institution status will be made on a case-by-case basis based upon the requester's intended use of the material.

Example 1. A request from a professor or a student of geology at a university for records relating to soil erosion, written on letterhead of the Department of Geology, would be presumed to be from an educational institution.

Example 2. A request from the same professor or student of geology seeking drug information from the Food and Drug Administration in furtherance of a murder mystery he is writing would not be presumed to be an institutional request, regardless of whether it was written on institutional letterhead.

Example 3. A student who makes a request in furtherance of their coursework or other school-sponsored activities and provides a copy of a course syllabus or other reasonable documentation to indicate the research purpose for the request, would qualify as part of this fee category.

(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 or entity that actively 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. 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 that disseminate “news” and make their products available through a variety of means to the general public including news organizations that disseminate solely on the internet. To be in this category, a requester must not be seeking the requested records for a commercial use. A request for records that supports the news-dissemination function of the requester shall not be considered to be for a commercial use. 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 be the clearest proof, but components shall also look to the past publication record of a requester in making this determination. A component's decision to grant a requester media status will be made on a case-by-case basis based upon the requester's intended use of the material. The mere fact that a person or entity has been classified as news media with respect to one request does not mean they will be so considered as news media with respect to any other requests.

(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. Review time includes processing any record for disclosure, such as doing all that is necessary to prepare the record for disclosure, including the process of redacting it and marking any applicable exemptions. Review costs are recoverable even if a record ultimately is not disclosed. Review time includes time spent obtaining and considering any formal objection to disclosure made by a submitter under §4.9, 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 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 (l) of this section.

(1) The four categories and chargeable fees are:

Category Chargeable fees
(i) Commercial Use RequestersSearch, Review, and Duplication.
(ii) Educational and Non-commercial Scientific Institution RequestersDuplication (excluding the cost of the first 100 pages).
(iii) Representatives of the News MediaDuplication (excluding the cost of the first 100 pages).
(iv) All Other RequestersSearch and Duplication (excluding the cost of the first 2 hours of search and 100 pages).

(2) Uniform fee schedule.

Service Rate
(i) Manual searchHourly rate from Table 1 of employee involved.
(ii) Computerized searchActual direct cost, including operator time, using the hourly rate from Table 1, of the employee involved.
(iii) Review of recordsHourly rate from Table 1 of employee involved.
(iv) Duplication of records:
(A) Paper copy reproduction$.08 per page.
(B) Other reproduction (e.g., converting paper into an electronic format (e.g., scanning), computer disk or printout, or other electronically-formatted reproduction (e.g., uploading records made available to the requester into FOIAonline))Actual direct cost, including operator time, using the hourly rate from Table 1, of the employee involved.

(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. These direct costs will include the costs of the operator/programmer FOIA hourly processing rate apportionable to the search and any other tangible direct costs associated with a computer search.

(4) Duplication. Duplication fees shall be charged to all requesters, subject to the limitations of paragraph (d) of this section. A component shall honor a requester's preference for receiving a record in a particular form or format where it is readily producible by the component in the form or format requested. For either a photocopy or a computer-generated printout of a record (no more than one copy of which need be supplied), the fee shall be $.08 per page. Requesters may reduce costs by specifying double-sided duplication, except where this is technically not feasible. For electronic forms of duplication, other than a computer-generated printout, components will charge the direct costs of that duplication. Such direct costs will include the costs of the requested electronic medium on which the copy is to be made and the actual operator time and computer resource usage required to produce the copy, to the extent they can be determined.

(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 fees shall be charged for requests from educational institutions, non-commercial 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.

(6) No search fees shall be charged to a FOIA requester when a component does not comply with the statutory time limits at 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6) in which to respond to a request (this section only applies to FOIA requests, not appeals), except as described in paragraph (d)(8) of this section.

(7) No duplication fees shall be charged to requesters in the fee category of a representative of the news media or an educational or noncommercial scientific institution when a component does not comply with the statutory time limits at 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6) in which to respond to a request, except as described in paragraph (d)(8) of this section.

(8)(i) When a Department component determines that unusual circumstances, as those terms are defined in §4.6(d)(2), apply to the processing of the request, and provides timely written notice to the requester in accordance with the FOIA, then the Department component is granted an additional ten days until the fee restrictions in paragraphs (d)(6) and (7) of this section apply.

(ii) The fee restrictions in paragraphs (d)(6) and (7) of this section do not apply:

(A) When a Department component determines that unusual circumstances, as those terms are defined in §4.6(d)(2), apply to the processing of the request;

(B) More than 5,000 pages are necessary to respond to the request;

(C) The Department component provides timely written notice to the requester in accordance with the FOIA; and

(D) The Department component has discussed with the requester (or made three good faith attempts to do so) on how the requester can effectively limit the scope of the request.

(e) Notice of anticipated fees in excess of $20.00. (1) When a component determines or estimates that the fees for processing a FOIA request will total more than $20.00 or total more than the amount the requester indicated a willingness to pay, the component shall notify the requester of the actual or estimated amount of the fees, unless the requester has stated in writing a willingness to pay fees as high as those 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. A notice under this paragraph shall offer the requester an opportunity to discuss the matter with Departmental personnel in order to modify the request in an effort to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost. The requester may also contact the Department FOIA Public Liaison, the relevant component's FOIA Public Liaison or FOIA contact, or OGIS for further assistance, or file an administrative appeal of the fee estimate amount in accordance with §4.10.

(2) When a requester has been notified that the actual or estimated fees will amount to more than $20.00, or amount to more than the amount the requester indicated a willingness to pay, the component will do no further work on the request until the requester agrees in writing to pay the actual or estimated total fee. The component will toll the processing of the request when it notifies the requester of the actual or estimated amount of fees and this time will be excluded from the twenty (20) working day time limit (as specified in §4.6(b)). The requester's agreement to pay fees must be made in writing, must designate an exact dollar amount the requester is willing to pay, and must be received within 30 calendar days from the date of the notification of the fee estimate. If the requester fails to submit an agreement to pay the anticipated fees within 30 calendar days from the date of the component's fee notice, the component will presume that the requester is no longer interested and notify the requester that the request will be closed.

(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 (i.e., a payment made before a component begins to process or continues work on a request). Payment owed for work already completed (i.e., a pre-payment before copies of responsive records are sent to a requester) is not an advance payment.

(2) When a component determines or estimates that the total fee for processing a FOIA request will be $250.00 or more, the component shall notify the requester of the actual or estimated fee and require the requester to make an advance payment of the entire anticipated fee before beginning to process the request. A notice under this paragraph shall offer the requester an opportunity to discuss the matter with Departmental personnel in order to modify the request in an effort to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.

(3) When 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, the component shall notify the requester that he or she is required 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. A notice under this paragraph shall offer the requester an opportunity to discuss the matter with Departmental personnel in order to modify the request in an effort to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.

(4) When the component requires advance payment or payment due under paragraphs (i)(2) and (i)(3) of this section, the component will not further process the request until the required payment is made. The component will toll the processing of the request when it notifies the requester of the advanced payment due and this time will be excluded from the twenty (20) working day time limit (as specified in §4.6(b)). If the requester does not pay the advance payment within 30 calendar days from the date of the component's fee notice, the component will presume that the requester is no longer interested and notify the requester that the request will be closed.

(j) Tolling. When necessary for the component to clarify issues regarding fee assessment with the FOIA requester, the time limit for responding to the FOIA request is tolled until the component resolves such issues with the requester. The tolling period is from the day a requester was contacted through the working day (i.e., excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) on which a response was received by the responsible component.

(k) 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.

(l) 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.

(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 (l)(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 (l)(2) and (3) of this section, insofar as they apply to each request.

[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 79 FR 62562, Oct. 20, 2014; 83 FR 39594, Aug. 10, 2018]

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