In most of America, you could probably buy a home for $270,000. Or, if you were a public documents wonk, you could get all of the 95,000 pages the FBI says may relate to its work with Booz Allen Hamilton in the last five years.
When MuckRock asked the FBI for copies of its contracts with Booz Allen Hamilton and any reports the popular consulting firm may have produced for the bureau in the last five years, a records manager responded with an estimated cost of $267,400. That price is just for the labor of finding and reviewing the documents, and doesn’t include fees for copying or placing the documents on CDs.
That’ll be an extra $9,540 for paper, $2,855 for CD. The total cost, therefore, would be an estimated $277,780 on paper and $271,095 on CD.
MuckRock sent the same exact request to dozens of agencies in March (mostly federal, but a handful of state departments, too). Verbatim, the request asked for, “Copies of contracts with Booz Allen Hamilton over the past 5 years” and “Any final reports generated and delivered by Booz Allen Hamilton to the agency over the past 5 years.”
Though MuckRock has sent out single requests to many agencies before in surveys like the Drone Census and the automated license plate recognition project, this was the first time we used our new multi-request feature. It allows users to send out a single request to numerous agencies with just a few clicks.
Several FOIA officers responded with high cost estimates when asked for the Booz Allen Hamilton documents.
The contractor handles a lot of different tasks — from management consulting to technology and engineering, so departments could understandably hold many contracts with the firm.
Some agencies nevertheless responded quickly with responsive documents or worked hard to track down the files at no cost. These included the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense Education Activity.
Granted, these departments are smaller and likely have fewer contracts to sort through than the largest agencies, but the cost estimates still varied widely.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Under Secretary for National Protection and Programs Directorate responded with a fee of $1,262 to locate, process, and send the documents, $600 of which would have to be paid up front.
To obtain copies of the Environmental Protection Agency’s contracts and reports regarding Booz Allen Hamilton, it would cost $420. The Department of Labor said the approximate cost would be $1,500 if MuckRock did not narrow its request.
The National Reconnaissance Office couldn’t pin down an exact cost or precise timeline for completion. Based on a preliminary search, a representative for the agency said, “we estimate that assessable fees could reach $1,000.00 and potentially exceed $2,000.00.” He later added, “we estimate that response to your request as currently stated will require one to two years.”