15 CFR 2004.9 - Fees.

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§ 2004.9 Fees.

(a)In general. We will assess a fee to process your FOIA request in accordance with the provisions of this section and the OMB Guidelines. For purposes of assessing fees, the FOIA establishes three categories of requesters: Commercial use requesters, non-commercial scientific or educational institutions or news media requesters, and all other requesters. Different fees are assessed depending on the category. You can seek a fee waiver, which we will consider in accordance with the requirements in paragraph (h) of this section. We will contact you to resolve any fee issues that arise under this section. We will conduct searches, review and duplication in the most efficient and least expensive manner. We ordinarily will collect all applicable fees before sending copies of records to you. You 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 is a request that asks for information for a use or a purpose that furthers a commercial, trade or profit interest, which can include furthering those interests through litigation. Our decision to place you in the commercial use category will be made on a case-by-case basis based on your intended use of the information. We will notify you of your placement in this category.

(2)Direct costs are the expenses we incur in searching for and duplicating (and, in the case of commercial use requests, reviewing) records in order to respond to your FOIA request. For example, direct costs include the salary of the employee performing the work (i.e., the basic rate of pay for the employee plus 16 percent of that rate to cover benefits) and the cost of operating computers and other electronic equipment, such as photocopiers and scanners. Direct costs do not include overhead expenses such as the costs of space and of heating or lighting a facility.

(3)Duplication is reproducing a copy of a record, or the information contained in it, necessary to respond to a FOIA request. Copies can take the form of paper, audiovisual materials or electronic records, among others.

(4)Educational institution is any school that operates a program of scholarly research. You must show that your FOIA request is made in connection with your role at the educational institution. We may seek verification that you are seeking the records to further scholarly research and not for a commercial use. To fall within this fee category, your request must serve the scholarly research goals of the institution rather than an individual research goal. We will advise you of your placement in this category.

Example 1.
We would presume that a request from a professor of economics for records relating to the economic effects of a trade agreement, written on letterhead of the university's department of economics, is a request from an educational institution.
Example 2.
We would not presume that a request from the same professor of economics seeking drug information from the Food and Drug Administration in furtherance of a murder mystery he is writing is a request from an educational institution, regardless of whether it was written on institutional stationery.
Example 3.
We would presume that a request from a student in furtherance of their coursework or other school-sponsored activities evidenced by a course syllabus or other reasonable documentation indicating the research purpose for the request would qualify as part of this fee category.

(5)Noncommercial scientific institution is an institution 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 and not on a commercial basis, as defined in paragraph (b)(1) of this section. To fall within this fee category, you must show that the request is authorized by and is made under the auspices of a qualifying institution and that the records you seek are to further scientific research and not for a commercial use. We will advise you of your placement in this category.

(6)Representative of the news media is any person or entity that 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 include television or radio stations that broadcast news 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. We will not consider a request for records supporting a news-dissemination function to be for a commercial use. We will consider freelance journalists who demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through a news media entity as a representative of the news media. A publishing contract would provide the clearest evidence that publication is expected; however, we also may consider your past publication record in making this determination. We will advise you of your placement in this category.

(7)Review is the examination of a record located in response to a request in order to determine if 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 redacting the record and marking the appropriate exemptions. Review costs are properly charged even if we ultimately do not disclose a record. Review time also includes time spent both obtaining and considering any formal objection to disclosure a confidential commercial information submitter makes under § 2004.4, but it does not include time spent resolving general legal or policy issues regarding the application of exemptions.

(8)Search is the process of looking for and retrieving records or information responsive to a request. Search time includes page-by-page or line-by-line identification of information within records and the reasonable efforts we expend to locate and retrieve information from electronic records.

(c)Charging fees. In responding to FOIA requests, we will charge the following fees unless we granted a waiver or reduction of fees under paragraph (h) of this section, or the total fee to be charged is less than $25. If we do not meet the time limits for responding to your request, and if no unusual circumstance described in § 2004.6(c) applies, we will not assess fees.

(1)Search.

(i) We will not assess any search fees for processing requests made by educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media. For all other requesters, we will charge for time spent searching even if we do not locate any responsive records or if we determine that the records are entirely exempt from disclosure. We will provide two hours of free search time except for requesters seeking records for a commercial use.

(ii) For each quarter hour spent by personnel searching for requested records, including electronic searches that do not require new programming, we will charge $76/hour, which is a blended hourly rate for all personnel in the FOIA Office, plus 16 percent of that rate to cover benefits.

(iii) We will charge the direct costs if it is necessary to create a new computer program to locate the requested records. We will notify you of the costs associated with creating such a program, and you must agree to pay the associated costs before we build the program.

(iv) If your request requires the retrieval of records stored at a Federal records center, we will charge additional costs in accordance with the Transactional Billing Rate Schedule established by the National Archives and Records Administration.

(2)Duplication. We will charge duplication fees to all requesters. We will honor your preference for receiving a record in a particular form or format if we can readily reproduce it in the form or format requested. If we provide photocopies, we will make one copy per request at the cost of $.10 per page. For copies of records produced on tapes, disks or other media, we will charge the direct costs of producing the copy, including operator time. Where we must scan paper documents in order to comply with your preference to receive the records in an electronic format, we will charge you the direct costs associated with scanning those materials. For other forms of duplication, we will charge the direct costs. We will provide the first 100 pages of duplication (or the cost equivalent for other media) without charge except for requesters seeking records for a commercial use.

(3)Review. We will charge review fees to requesters who make commercial use requests. We will assess review fees in connection with the initial review of the record, i.e., the review we conduct to determine if an exemption applies to a particular record or portion of a record. We will not charge for review at the administrative appeal stage of exemptions applied at the initial review stage. However, if a particular exemption is deemed no longer to apply, any costs associated with re-review of the records in order to consider the use of other exemptions may be assessed as review fees. We will charge review fees at the same rates as those charged for a search under paragraph (c)(1)(ii) of this section.

(d)Other charges -

(1)Special services. We will charge you the direct cost of providing any special services you request, such as sending records by express mail, certifying that records are true copies, or providing multiple copies of the same document.

(2)Interest. We may assess interest charges on any unpaid fees starting on the 31st day following the day on which we sent the bill to you at the rate prescribed in Interest and Penalty on Claims, 31 U.S.C. 3717.

(e)Aggregating requests. We may aggregate separate FOIA requests for the purpose of assessing fees when we reasonably believe that a requester or a group of requesters acting in concert, is dividing a request into a series of requests for the purpose of avoiding or minimizing fees. For example, we may aggregate multiple requests for similar information filed within a short period of time.

(f)If we anticipate fees will exceed $25. Unless you have indicated in advance a willingness to pay fees as high as anticipated, we will notify you if we estimate that charges will exceed $25 including a breakdown of the fees for search, review or duplication and whether applicable entitlements to duplication and search at no charge have been provided. We will advise you if we can readily estimate only a portion of the fee.

(1) We will not process your request until you either commit in writing to pay the actual or estimated total fee, or designate some amount of fees you are willing to pay. If you are a noncommercial use requester and we have not yet provided your statutory entitlements (i.e., two hours of search time and 100 free pages), you can tell us to stop when we exhaust the statutory entitlements. We will start the twenty-day response clock when we receive your written reply.

(2) If you agree to pay some designated amount of fees, but we estimate that the total fee will exceed that amount, we will toll processing when we notify you of the estimated fees in excess of the amount you had indicated a willingness to pay. When we receive your written commitment to pay the actual or estimated total fee, or designate an additional amount of fees you are willing to pay, we will restart the processing clock.

(3) If you decide to reformulate your request to reduce costs, you can contact USTR's FOIA Public Liaison at FOIA@ustr.eop.gov for assistance.

(4) We will close your request if you do not respond in writing within thirty calendar days after the date we notify you of the fee estimate.

(g)Advance payments.

(1) If we determine or estimate that the total fee will exceed $250, we may require you to make an advance payment up to the amount of the entire anticipated fee before we begin to process your request.

(2) If you previously failed to pay a properly charged FOIA fee to any Federal agency within thirty calendar days of the billing date, we may require proof that you paid the full amount due, plus any applicable interest on that prior request, and that you make an advance payment to us of the full amount of any anticipated fee before we begin to process a new request or continue to process a pending request or any pending appeal. If we have a reasonable basis to believe that you have misrepresented your identity in order to avoid paying outstanding fees, we may require you to provide proof of identity.

(3) If we require advance payment, we will not consider your request received and will not do any additional work until we receive the required payment. We will close your request if you do not pay the advance payment within thirty calendar days after the date of our fee determination.

(4) Before we provide records in response to your request, we may collect payments you owe for work we already have completed.

(h)Requirements for waiver or reduction of fees.

(1) You can seek a fee waiver or reduction by explaining in writing how 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 is not primarily in your commercial interest. In determining whether to waive or reduce a fee we will consider whether disclosure of the requested information would:

(i) Shed light on the operations or activities of the government. The subject of the request must specifically concern identifiable operations or activities of the Federal government with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.

(ii) Likely contribute significantly to public understanding of those operations or activities. Disclosure of the requested records must be meaningfully informative about government operations or activities. The disclosure of information that already is in the public domain, in either the same or a substantially identical form, would not be meaningfully informative if nothing new would be added to the public's understanding. The disclosure must contribute to the understanding of a reasonably broad audience interested in the subject. We will consider your expertise in the subject area as well as your ability and intention to effectively convey information to the public.

(iii) Primarily advance your commercial interests. For example, we ordinarily presume that the public's interest is greater than the requester's commercial interest when we receive a request from a representative of the news media. We will not presume that disclosure to data brokers or others who merely compile and market government information for direct economic return primarily serves the public interest.

(2) We will grant a partial waiver when only some of the records to be released satisfy the requirements in this section.

(3) You should include your fee waiver or reduction request when you first submit your FOIA request to us. You can submit a fee waiver or reduction request at a later time so long as the underlying record request is pending or on administrative appeal. If you already committed to pay fees and subsequently request a waiver of those fees that we deny, you must pay any costs incurred up to the date the fee waiver request was received.

[ 81 FR 89846, Dec. 13, 2016, as amended at 82 FR 18986, Apr. 25, 2017]