With President Obama's signing of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, several substantive and procedural changes were made to the FOIA. Among these changes are additional restrictions on an agency’s ability to charge certain fees if the FOIA's time limits are not met. Today, OIP has published guidance to assist agencies in understanding these additional restrictions on charging fees.
Prior to the passage of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, agencies were prohibited from charging requesters certain fees when the FOIA’s time limits were not met, unless “unusual” or “exceptional” circumstances (as defined by the FOIA statute) were met. Those exceptions were narrowed by the recent amendments and contain specific steps that agencies must take in order to fall within them. Unless one of these three exceptions is satisfied, the basic rule is that when the FOIA's time limits are not met an agency cannot charge search fees for requesters that fall within the "commercial" or "all other" fee categories. And, for the "preferred fee category" (i.e. representatives of the news media, and educational or noncommercial scientific institutions) the agency cannot charge for duplication.
OIP’s guidance describes the three exceptions to this prohibition on charging certain fees. To further assist agencies in implementing these new requirements, OIP has also prepared a Decision Tree for Assessing Fees that accompanies the new guidance.
If you have any questions regarding this new guidance or any of the requirements of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, please contact OIP’s FOIA Counselor Service at (202) 514-FOIA (3642).