Information Management: Freedom of Information Act Fee and Fee Waiver Processing at the Department of Energy

GAO-05-405 Published: May 27, 2005. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 2005.
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The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public the right to access information about the federal government. In addressing requests for information, agencies have the authority to assess fees for certain categories of requesters to cover the costs of locating and copying records, as well as discretion to waive fees if specific criteria are met. GAO was asked to determine, for fiscal year 2004, the volume and nature of FOIA request processing at the Department of Energy (DOE), to what extent DOE followed the act and related Office of Management and Budget and Department of Justice guidance in processing cases that involve fees, and to what extent DOE communicated its fee-related decisions to requesters.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Justice To improve FOIA requesters' understanding of agency fee-related determinations, the Attorney General should direct the co-directors of the Department of Justice's Office of Information and Privacy to revise FOIA guidance to include a requirement that agencies explicitly inform requesters of all fee-related determinations associated with their requests, including a notification that fees were not assessed, if applicable.
Closed – Not Implemented
The Department of Justice has taken no action to implement this recommendation. The department continues to express the view, originally expressed in comments to our report, that it cannot provide guidance that it sees as falling outside its jurisdictional purview. We disagreed with this view, because Justice is the lead agency for providing guidance and support to federal agencies on FOIA issues. Thus, as we confirmed with OMB, our recommendation was appropriately addressed to Justice. Nonetheless, in April 2009, the Department of Justice reiterated its view in response to our inquiry on actions to implement this recommendation, saying that "fee assessment is the responsibility of OMB, is governed by OMB's guidelines, and is implemented through agency regulations."

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