11. Is there a filing fee for an FOIA request?
There is no initial fee to file a FOIA request and, in the majority of requests made to the Department of Homeland Security, no fee is ever charged. By law, however, an agency is entitled to charge certain fees, which depend on the category of requester you fall into. For the purposes of fees only, the FOIA divides requesters into three categories.
- Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching for records, ‘processing’ the records (i.e., reviewing them to determine the possible applicability of FOIA exemptions), and photocopying them
- Educational or noncommercial scientific institutions and representatives of the news media are charged only for photocopying expenses, after the first one hundred pages of copies
- Requesters who do not fall into either of the above two categories are not charged for processing; they are charged only for record searches and photocopying – and there is no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first one hundred pages of photocopies. The Justice Department charges ten cents per page for photocopying. In all cases, if the total fee does not exceed a minimum amount, currently $14, the Justice Department will not charge any fee at all
Note: You may include in your request letter a specific statement limiting the amount that you are willing to pay in fees. If you do not do so, the Department of Homeland Security will assume that you are willing to pay fees of up to $25. If a component estimates that the total fees for processing your request will exceed $25, it will notify you in writing of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow your request in order to reduce the fees. If you continue to want all of the records involved, you will be asked to express your commitment to pay the estimated fees and the processing of your request will be suspended until you agree to do so.
12. Can I get a waiver of the filing fee for an FOIA request?
If you expect or are advised that a fee will be charged, you may request a waiver of those fees. However, fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. Requests for fee waivers from individuals who are seeking records pertaining to themselves usually do not meet this standard because such disclosures usually will not result in any increase of the public’s understanding of government operations and activities. In addition, a requester’s inability to pay fees is not a legal basis for granting a fee waiver.
13. Can I file an appeal if I am not satisfied with a Department of Homeland Security component’s initial response?
Yes, you may file an administrative appeal if you are not satisfied with a Department of Homeland Security component’s initial response. You may file an appeal when:
- You disagree with the component’s withholding of information or you might believe that there are additional records responsive to your request that the component failed to locate
- You have requested expedited processing or a fee waiver and the component has not granted that request
Note: Your appeal must be received within sixty days of the date of the component’s determination letter.
14. Where can I file an appeal against a Department of Homeland Security component’s initial response?
All appeals must be made in writing and addressed to: Associate General Counsel (General Law)
Department of Homeland Security
Washigton DC 20258
Note: Both the front of the envelope and the appeal letter should contain the notation ‘Freedom of Information Act Appeal’.
15. What happens after I file an appeal against a Department of Justice component’s initial response?
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Associate General Counsel (General Law) is required to make a determination on your administrative appeal within 20 business days. The Associate General Counsel (General Law) may take one of several actions on your appeal.
- It may affirm the component’s action in full, in which case it will identify which exemptions (if any) have been appropriately claimed
- Or it may affirm part of the component’s action (identifying the applicable exemptions), but order the release of other information previously withheld
- Finally, under some circumstances, it may return or ‘remand’ the request to the component for complete reprocessing
Note: When a case is remanded, you will have an opportunity again to appeal to the Associate General Counsel (General Law) after the component has reprocessed the records if you remain dissatisfied with the component’s action in any respect.