Guidance Needed If Better Freedom of Information Act Cost Reports Are Desired

GGD-83-71: Published: Jun 22, 1983. Publicly Released: Jul 22, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO conducted a study of the cost of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), particularly indirect costs such as the costs of litigation, document review, policymaking, training, and other properly allocable costs.

Although GAO identified over $61 million in annual FOIA costs, its study showed that FOIA costs cannot be measured with precision due to an absence of supporting records. The act does not require that agencies keep track of their FOIA costs. In addition, FOIA activities pervade agency operating programs, complicating any attempts to collect costs. However, GAO reviewed FOIA cost data in the four agencies reporting the highest costs. Of the agencies visited: (1) the Department of Defense had the most comprehensive FOIA cost collection system; (2) the Department of Health and Human Services reports most direct costs but excludes indirect items; (3) the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which accounts for over 70 percent of reported Department of Justice costs, has a good cost collection system; and (4) the Federal Trade Commission reported only personnel costs. The FOIA costs included in agencies' future annual reports could be improved if the Office of Management and Budget were to provide specific cost measurement and reporting guidance.

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