UPDATED: FBI's new FOIA portal comes with same old duplication costs

UPDATED: FBI’s new FOIA portal comes with same old duplication costs

Bureau charges $15 for 500 pages of electronic records - exactly as much as it charged for CDs

Written by
Edited by Beryl Lipton

After publication, the FBI responded to an email for clarification with the following:

Duplication costs are based on the direct costs of duplication which include operator time. See 28 CFR § 16.10(c)(2). As such, cost is not based on the manner which records are delivered to the requester (via mail or the same material is accessed electronically); the direct cost of duplication is linked to the operator time associated with producing a copy of publically releasable material as processing is done on a classified enclave and must be moved to an unclassified format suitable for dissemination.

This raises additional questions, as one of the big selling points of the portal is that it was supposed to automate the process. We’ve reached out for clarification on the clarification.

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation officially launched its FOIA portal last year (amid much grumbling from the transparency community) the FBI presented it as a much-needed step towards modernization, with electronic releases replacing costly and inefficient CDs. However, in a series of puzzling FOIA responses - most recently to Emma Best, the Bureau appears to be charging a duplication fee of $15 for 500 pages - exactly as much as it did for CDs.

In response to Best’s request for files on the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (which Curtis Waltman wrote about here), the FBI located 42,816 pages of responsive material.

That material would be released electronically in 86 separate releases, with a duplication fee of $15 each, for a total cost of $1,285…

minus a very generous $5 off the first release.

To save you a trip to the calculator app, 42,816 divided by 86 is 497.9 - just shy of the 500 pages the Bureau claims is the limit for what it can fit on CD.

We’ve reached out to the FBI’s FOIA office for an explanation of why the new system is as costly and inefficient as the new one. In the meantime, we’re left to contemplate why a federal agency with an annual budget around $8.7 billion can’t figure out how to set up a Dropbox, or at the very least, buy a USB drive or two.

Image via FBI.gov