The FOIA Process: Part 4 – How Long Will It Take, and How Much Will It Cost?

| February 5, 2014

The answer is:  well, that depends.  (smile)

Cost.

It’s theoretically possible you may be charged a fee, and fees can be substantial for extensive requests requiring a great deal of research or copying of documents.

However, it also seems that NPRC generally will waive fees for a simple request from private individuals unless the individual concerned was discharged more than 62 years ago.  From what I’ve seen, most requests for info (e.g., “all info releasable under the FOIA”) for military records less than 62 years old seem to end up being simple requests.

Let me stress the following:  the “magic words” here seem to be that you should indicate that you’re “a private individual making the request for personal, nonprofit use to confirm or refute potentially false claims made by an individual concerning their military service” and that “confirmation or refutation of these claims is in the best interests of the government”.  For requests made using this justification, NPRC seems to waive fees routinely.

I’ve only been asked to pay a fee twice, and both were for records from World War II that were indeed more than 62 years old (those have to be pulled from archival storage, and that fee apparently can’t be waived).  The fee for archive retrieval of records is currently $75 – but for archival records you supposedly get the individual’s complete record.  (Apparently archival records are considered fully public.)  NPRC will notify you up-front before sending anything if the request is archival and the archive retrieval fee is required.

If you’re making the request as a commercial entity, NPRC may not waive the fee.  Journalist and/or prospective employer requests may count as commercial requests.  (If you’re doing a FOIA request for either of those purposes, you might want to consult a lawyer first as to whether or not it should be considered “for commercial purposes”.)   However, even there the simple request (e.g., one that takes less than 2 hrs total time and somewhere around 10 pages duplicated, if I recall correctly – though on occasion I’ve gotten close to 20 pages sent to me gratis) or public good waivers may apply.  Fees can apparently also be waived if providing the information is deemed to be in the public interest.

On all FOIA requests, I recommend you indicate an amount up to which you’re willing to pay.  As noted above, it’s very unlikely you’ll be charged anything.  However, if you don’t indicate an amount, NPRC will assume you’re willing to pay up to $50.00 (and no, I really have no idea how they came up with this number).  They’ll notify you if there’s a cost associated with answering your request.  I can’t remember if they supposedly send a bill after the fact or await payment before sending anything.

I also wouldn’t sweat it much.  As I said previously:  for non-archival requests (records less than 62 years old), I’ve never  been charged a fee.

FOIA requests to individual states for information from National Guard record may have fees charged by the state involved.  Maryland does ($15, if I recall correctly).  The few other states with whom I’ve filed FOIAs don’t seem to charge a fee – but the sample size here is only a handful.  I thus can’t give any general rule for states regarding what to expect regarding fees.  It truly varies “from state to state”.

Bottom line:  most requests will only cost you a stamp plus the time/effort to make the request.  But some will require multiple requests, and once in a great while you might be asked to pay a fee.

Time.

These days NPRC seems to takes about 4-6 weeks typically to answer a FOIA request, but there’s quite a lot of variance – I’ve gotten a “hit” reply once in less than a week (no, I didn’t paperclip any currency to the request), while some have taken 2-3 months or longer.  I can’t really speak for how long National Guard requests should take, as I’ve only ever filed a handful of those and the timing seems to vary widely.

For some reason, Navy and USMC requests concerning recently-discharged vets seem to take longer than others these days.  Not positive why that’s happening, but that’s my impression.

. . .

That’s all for today.  The next article will cover what you can generally expect to get back as a reply to a FOIA inquiry.

Category: The FOIA Process

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