Home > meta-journalism > FOI files: benevolent feds charge just $10/hr, 20 cents a page

FOI files: benevolent feds charge just $10/hr, 20 cents a page

November 23, 2011

Last week, I directed readers’ attention to an article by Dan Ferguson in the Langley Times, in which he notes that the Langley school district wanted to charge him $450 an hour for staff time to process a freedom of information request. They also wanted to charge $10 a page. Obviously this is ridiculous. Some might call it a fucking outrage. But context is always important. Which is why I was particularly interested to get a letter from a federal agency today acknowledging the receipt of my own access to information request.

Now, if this agency suggested charging me a similarly high fee, it would, perhaps, illustrate that there were some hidden costs I was somehow missing. (Although it would more likely reflect a widespread abuse of FOI chilling fees).

But fortunately, for me anyways, this beautiful federal agency notified me that, if staff were required to work for more than five yours on my request, I would be billed at the cost of….. 10 dollars an hour. Photocopies would cost 20 cents a page.

Christ, I paid more for photocopies at university. And soon, $10 an hour will be minimum wage.

It goes to show two things: not all public entities are staffed by assholes full-time. And the Langley school district really has some cojones if it wants to stand behind its $450/hr rate.

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  1. November 23, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Whenever I see these kinds of fee demands, I interpret them as attempts to frustrate the public.
    There is a simple solution to this:
    The writer should apply to the Office of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner, who has a long, long, LONG history of cases involving egregious and stupid fee requests. The office has taken a dim view of attempts by government agencies to frustrate public access by giving huge bills, and I would think he will instruct the school district to stop being such a pill.
    But reporters also need to be careful how they frame requests in the first place.
    I have always found that the best thing is to call up the agency you’re dealing with and ask them this incredibly powerful question:
    “How do you keep these records?’
    If agencies have to CREATE a record for you, the cost goes up. If you can identify the record in question and limit your mission so that it’s not a fishing expedition, it makes it much harder for agencies that want to frustrate you to give high bills. That’s because the cost of pulling out the particular report or document is clean and swift.
    As for the $10/page photocopy fee, tell them you’ll bring your own photocopier.
    Or, even better, tell them you want it in electronic format if that’s the way it was created. (usually the case). Then there is no photocopy fee.
    And if they tell you it will cost $100 for CDs, buy them a box and tell them to knock themselves out.
    Hope this helps.

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