FOIA requesters may be required to pay fees to cover some or all of the costs of processing their requests. Please do not submit an advance payment with your request. If a fee is incurred more than the maximum fees you are willing to pay, you will be notified in advance if the charges will exceed the specified amount, and may withdraw or modify your request. This may also avoid unnecessary delays and additional correspondence.
FOIA establishes three types of fees that may be charged:
- Fees to recover the cost of copying documents. Secret Service has a fixed price for making copies using copying machines. A requester is usually charged the actual cost of copying computer tapes, photographs, and other nonstandard records.
- Fees to recover the costs of searching for documents, including the time spent looking for material responsive to a request. FOIA defines "search'' as a "review, manually or by automated means,'' of USSS "records to locate those records which are responsive to a request.'' The Secret Service need not create documents that do not exist under the FOIA, although the agency must make reasonable efforts to search for records. With respect to electronic records, this may require the application of codes or some form of programming to retrieve the information, unless such efforts would significantly interfere with the operation of the agency’s automated information system.
- Review costs apply to commercial requesters only. Review is the process of examining documents to determine whether any portion is exempt from disclosure. Review charges only include costs incurred during the initial examination of a document. The Secret Service may not charge for any costs incurred in resolving issues of law or policy that may arise while processing a request.
Different fees apply to different categories of requesters. The categories of FOIA requesters are:
- Representatives of the news media, and educational or noncommercial scientific institutions whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research. A requester in this category who is not seeking records for commercial use can only be billed for reasonable standard document duplication charges. A request for information from a representative of the news media is not considered to be for commercial use if the request is in support of news gathering.
- Commercial requesters - FOIA requesters seeking records for commercial use. Commercial use is not defined in the law, but it generally includes profit making activities. A commercial user can be charged reasonable standard charges for document duplication, search, and review.
- Other requesters – this includes everyone not in the first two categories. People seeking information for personal use, public interest groups, and nonprofit organizations are examples of requesters who fall into the third group. Charges for these requesters are limited to reasonable standard charges for document duplication and search. Review costs may not be charged.
Smaller requests (involving the release of 100 or fewer pages and two hours or fewer of search time) are free for all requesters except commercial requesters. A noncommercial requester limiting a request to a small number of easily-retrieved records will generally incur no fees. However, if a requester breaks up a large request into smaller requests to avoid fees, the smaller requests may be aggregated and charged as though only one request had been made.
The law also prevents agencies from charging fees if the cost of collecting the fee would exceed the amount collected. This limitation applies to all requests, including those seeking documents for commercial use. Thus, if the allowable charges for any FOIA request are less than $25.00, no fees are imposed.
The FOIA requires that the Secret Service waive or reduce fees if disclosure of the 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 the commercial interest of the requester.
Fee category determinations are separate and distinct from fee waiver determinations. For example, a requester determined to be a news reporter will only be charged duplication fees. However, the requester is not automatically entitled to a waiver of those fees upon request. A reporter who seeks a fee waiver must demonstrate that the request also meets the standards for waivers. The issue of a fee waiver typically arises only after a requester’s fee category has been determined. Any requester who seeks a fee waiver should ask for a waiver in the original request letter. However, a request for a waiver can be made later.
The request for fee waiver must describe how disclosure would contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the Secret Service.
Any requester may ask for a fee waiver. Some will find it easier to qualify than others. A news reporter who is only charged duplication costs may still ask that the charges be waived because of the public benefits that will result from disclosure. A representative of the news media, a scholar, or a public interest group is more likely to qualify for a waiver of fees, whereas a commercial user may find it difficult to qualify for a waiver. Eligibility of other requesters may vary. Key elements in qualifying for a fee waiver is the relationship of the information to public understanding of the operations or activities of the agency and the ability of the requester to convey that information to other interested members of the public.
A requester is not eligible for a fee waiver solely because of indigence or inability to pay.