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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency	14-P-0319
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\ Office of Inspector General
July 16, 2014
1 *
At a Glance
Why We Did This Review
The Deputy Administrator of
the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA)
requested a review to
determine whether the EPA fee
waiver determinations under
the Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA) were completed in a
timely and unbiased manner.
Specifically, we evaluated
whether the EPA implements
the FOIA fee waiver provisions
in accordance with regulations;
adheres to timely and unbiased
treatment of requests for fee
waivers; and tracks the
elements of fee waiver
requests to demonstrate timely
and unbiased treatment.
We reviewed 1,077 EPA FOIA
fee waiver denials issued
between October 1, 2009, and
June 19, 2013. We also
reviewed 475 fee waiver
requests from 21 organizations
to determine whether the EPA
appropriately applied criteria
(i.e., six factors in the agency's
regulations to evaluate fee
waiver requests).
This report addresses the
following EPA goal or
cross-agency strategy:
 Embracing EPA as a high-
performing organization.
For further information,
contact our public affairs office
at (202) 566-2391.
The full report is at:
No Indications of Bias Found in a Sample of
Freedom of Information Act Fee Waiver Decisions
But the EPA Could Improve Its Process
To improve customer
service and lessen any
perception of differential
treatment, the EPA should
address variability in time
to respond to FOIA fee
waiver requests and should
clarify what requesters
must demonstrate to
receive a fee waiver.
What We Found
We found that the EPA responded to fee waiver
requests, on average, within 12 business days,
although we noted wide variation in response
times among the sample we reviewed. We found
that 47 percent of the EPA's responses to fee
waiver requests we reviewed exceeded the
agency's 10-business-day goal. The time it takes
the EPA to respond to fee waiver requests has
remained fairly consistent overtime. On fee
waiver appeals, we found that over 71 percent of
decisions we reviewed exceeded the EPA's processing goal of 20 business days.
The factor most frequently cited by the EPA when it denied fee waiver requests
was the requester not adequately describing how disclosure of the requested
information would contribute to public understanding. The EPA cited this factor in
more than half of the denials we reviewed (585 out of 1,062).
We found no indications of bias in the fee waiver decisions we reviewed. We
agreed with how the EPA applied the six factors when deciding 452 of the 475
fee waiver requests we reviewed from 21 different organizations. Of the 475, our
decisions differed from the agency's in 23 instances (approximately 5 percent).
Among these 23 disagreements, we would have denied 17 that were granted due
to our opinion that request letters lacked discussion on one or more factors. We
also would have granted six that were denied. The EPA should clarify what
requesters must demonstrate under the six review factors and when to obtain
additional justification from requesters to lessen any perception of potential
differential treatment when evaluating fee waiver requests.
Recommendations and Planned Corrective Actions
We recommended that the Acting Assistant Administrator for Environmental
Information and the General Counsel examine and address the reasons for
variability in response times for FOIA fee waiver decisions and appeals. We also
recommended that the Assistant Administrator for Environmental Information
clarify what requesters must demonstrate under each factor to receive a fee
waiver, clarify the EPA's approach on when to request additional justification, and
inform the public of enhancements to the agency's FOIA website and other
efforts to explain what must be demonstrated under each factor. The EPA agreed
with our recommendations and developed or completed acceptable corrective
actions. All recommendations are resolved. Recommendations 1 through 3 are
open and recommendation 4 is closed.