User Fees:

DOD Fees for Providing Information Not Current and Consistent

GAO-02-34: Published: Oct 12, 2001. Publicly Released: Oct 12, 2001.

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The National Defense Authorization Act for 2001 authorized the military archives to (1) charge fees to persons requesting information and (2) retain collected fees to help defray costs of providing the information. Although none of the archives has yet implemented a fee, one archive plans to do so by October 2001. The Department of Defense's (DOD) archives and other offices are also authorized under both the User Charge Statute and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to charge for information provided to the public. However, neither of these statutes authorizes an agency to retain those fees. The four designated archives are charging fees to public requesters but are not using the fee schedule mandated by the DOD regulation implementing the User Charge Statute. Similarly, DOD's fee schedules for charges under FOIA are outdated. DOD's inconsistent use of the authority to charge fees and the use of outdated DOD fees schedules result in uncollected fees of a million dollars or more annually and inconsistent handling of public requests for historical information.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In responses to GAO's report, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and the Director, Freedom of Information and Security Review stated that a review of fee schedules would be undertaken and that updated fee schedules would be published as appropriate. On July 1, 2002, an updated fee schedule for the Freedom of Information Act became effective with new hourly rates showing a significant increase over the prior rates. In October 2007, the revised DOD FMR, Volume 11A, Chapter 4 was approved and included an updated Appendix 2 on user fees. It also required that fees not specifically listed in the appendix be based on full cost or market price. The revised FMR contains requirements to help ensure that fees are implemented properly and adjusted as appropriate to reflect changes in costs and market values. For example, it requires that agencies review their fees biennially and to discuss the results in the CFO Annual Report. Although the updated appendix does not appear to reference all potential user fees, it does provide for increased fees for certain services and specifically references costs for computerized records. These features, plus the requirement that any unspecified fees are to be based on full costs or market price, help meet the intent of the first part of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), and the Director, Freedom of Information and Security Review, in conjunction with the secretaries of the military departments and other DOD officials, as appropriate, should review and update fee schedules under the User Charge Statute and the Freedom of Information Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: Fee schedules authorized by Section 1085 are optional. The Army Military History Institute is developing a schedule of charges under Section 1085 and will, where appropriate, consider the user schedule in the DOD FMR. The Navy Historical Center believes that implementing Section 1085 will not benefit the center. The Marine Corps History Institute has not indicated whether they will establish their own fee schedule under Section 1085. We have made several attempts to follow-up with DOD on the specific actions they have taken. To date, our efforts have been unsuccessful because the department has not responded to our inquiries. On October 2009 we attempted to follow up and could not verify implementation of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), and the Director, Freedom of Information and Security Review, in conjunction with the secretaries of the military departments and other DOD officials, as appropriate, should, for each archive implementing Section 1085, establish fee schedules that are consistent with the updated fee schedules unless a determination is made that a different fee schedule is justified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2007, the revised DOD FMR, Volume 11A established management controls that help to meet the intent of the first part of this recommendation that fees be properly implemented. The revised FMR contains requirements to help ensure that fees are implemented properly and adjusted as appropriate to reflect changes in costs and market values. The FMR Volume 11A, Chapter 4 added a sentence that indicates that Heads of DOD Components shall review the user fees biennially and to discuss the results in the CFO Annual Report. It also states that the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) shall develop and monitor policies governing user fees. In regards to the second part of this recommendation, notification of the updated FOIA fee schedule was made via email with an accompanying copy of the revised DOD Form 2086, ?FOI Processing Cost Sheet.? Notice of the fee change was also published in the Federal Register on 5/9/2002. The Register notice and the DOD Form 2086 are both posted on the internet at www.defenselink.mil/pubs/foi. Since all DOD FOIA component contracts were advised of the increased fees and are responsible for applying the fee schedule, formal training for an action officer who may be tasked to respond to a FOIA request is not necessary. All individuals have access to the guidance available on the internet.

    Recommendation: The Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), and the Director, Freedom of Information and Security Review, in conjunction with the secretaries of the military departments and other DOD officials, as appropriate, should undertake a notification, training, and follow-up effort to ensure that all DOD offices and organizations responding to requesters for information are properly using the updated fee schedules.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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