4-4.13 Assessment and Collection of Fees

  1. General/Consultation of FOIA Regulations. If the request is not otherwise resolved, the records custodian must assess and collect from the requester all allowable fees incurred by the Postal Service in responding to the request. Title 39 CFR 265.9 of the Postal Service’s FOIA regulations outlines how a records custodian may charge fees. While general guidance concerning fee issues is provided here, this guidance is meant to supplement a review of 39 CFR 265.9. Records custodians must always review 39 CFR 265.9 of the Postal Service’s FOIA regulations carefully before proceeding with a request, as some requests may require advance payment or the records custodian may find that it is necessary to ask the requester additional information in order to clarify issues regarding fees. Title 39 CFR 265.9 also provides guidance in determining whether a requester qualifies for a waiver of fees, if he or she so requests one. The referring FOIA RSC or the Privacy and Records Management Office may serve as resources to assist with fee questions.
  2. Categories of Requesters and Types of Fees Charged. Generally, FOIA provides for several categories of requesters for purposes of charging fees: commercial use requesters, representatives of the news media, educational and noncommercial scientific institutions, and all others. Commercial use requesters may be charged for fees incurred in searching and reviewing records, as well as duplication fees. Representatives of the news media and educational or scientific institutions may be charged only for duplication fees. All other requesters may be charged for search and duplication fees. Additional special costs may apply depending on the particular circumstances of the request. Title 39 CFR 265.9 includes guidance regarding categorizing requesters, as well as the particular amount that a requester may be charged. For all categories of requesters besides commercial use requesters, the first 100 pages of duplication and 2 hours of search time is free of charge.
  3. Representatives of the News Media. If a requester asserts that he or she must be categorized as a representative of the news media, the requester must demonstrate several things. First, the requester must demonstrate that he or she, or the news entity represented, gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. Some examples include television networks, radio stations, publishers of periodicals, and websites that disseminate news and make their products available through a variety of means to the general public. Disseminating solely on the internet may qualify. However, merely making the information received available to the public (or others), as opposed to disseminating the information, is not sufficient to qualify a requester for placement in this fee category. Furthermore, the request must be in furtherance of the entity or individual’s news gathering function for the request to qualify for this category. A “freelance” journalist must demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through a news media entity to be considered as a representative of the news media, for example by presenting a publishing contract or his or her past publication record. If the requester does not provide sufficient information to determine if he or she qualifies as a representative of the news media, send a letter to the requester asking for additional information with a response deadline of 10 business days. It is the requester’s obligation to demonstrate that he or she meets the requirements to be considered a representative of the news media.
  4. More Information Required and Time Limits. If it is necessary to ask the requester for further information in order to clarify issues regarding fee assessment, then the time period for the records custodian to respond to the request is tolled while the records custodian awaits that information (see 4-4.14). In other words, the records custodian is not required to consider the request further during that period.
  5. Fees Not Assessed. The Postal Service does not charge for responding to requests for records if fees do not exceed $25 or for requests for address information as described in 5-2.
  6. Advance Notice. The custodian must notify the requester as soon as practicable if the estimated processing cost is expected to exceed $25, unless:
    1. The request specifies that whatever cost is involved is acceptable or is acceptable up to a specified amount that covers estimated costs; or
    2. Payment of all fees in excess of $25 has been waived (see 39 CFR 265.9 for fee waiver provisions).

    The custodian must briefly describe the basis for the estimated cost and may offer the requester the opportunity to revise the request to reduce the cost. If the custodian does not hear from the requester within 20 working days, he or she will assume the requester is no longer interested in pursuing the request. Whenever practical, the custodian should advise the requester in writing that he or she is closing the file since a response was not received.

  7. Advance Payment. Advance payment may be required:
    1. When the estimated fees are likely to exceed $250. The custodian may require an advance payment of an amount up to the full estimated charge before commencing work on the request.
    2. When a requester has previously failed to pay a fee within 30 days of billing. In such instances, the requester is required to pay the full amount owed and make an advance payment of the estimated fees.

    When advance payment is required, the time for response does not run between the date the notice requiring advance payment is sent and the date payment is received. If the custodian does not hear from the requester within 20 working days, he or she will assume that the requester is no longer interested in pursuing the request. Whenever practical, the custodian must advise the requester in writing that he or she is closing the file since a response was not received.

  8. Consequences of Failing to Meet Statutory Time Limits. Unless unusual circumstances apply, when a component fails to comply with FOIA’s time limits for responding to a request (see 4-4.14) it may not charge search fees or, for requests where no search fees may be charged (requests from educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media), may not charge duplication fees.
  9. Accounting for Fees. Custodians must account for fees as follows:
    1. For fees received at Post Office installations, deposit fees received as Postal Service funds. Record the amounts collected by entries to Account Identifier Code (AIC) 198, Freedom of Information Fees.
    2. For fees received at non-Post Office installations, forward fees for deposit to the following:
      EAGAN, MN 55121

    Specify general ledger account 43388, Freedom of Information Fees, as the account for the amounts collected.

  10. Searches for Emails and Other Electronic Databases. If the request involves a search for emails or other electronic databases by the USPS Information Catalog Program (ICP), then ICP must be asked to provide a fee estimate before proceeding with the search (see 4-4.18).
  11. Appeal Rights Provided. Because fee waiver denials are considered adverse determinations, requesters must be provided with appeal rights (see 4-4.26.c and 4-4.28).