U.S. govt's General Services Administration wants $113,680 to respond to FOIA request for internal discussion of iPads

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50 Responses to “U.S. govt's General Services Administration wants $113,680 to respond to FOIA request for internal discussion of iPads”

  1. Genre Slur says:

    I swear Douglas Adams has been scripting the present since he ‘skipped out’ on us…

  2. Sasha Chh says:

    This is when you sue.

    Just like a poll-tax prevents you’re right to vote, or unreasonable insurance fees prevent your right to assembly (Skokie), unreasonable fees prevent your right to request information under FOIA.

    ACLU, EFF, etc. will back this up, it just takes one person to sue to set the precedent here, there have been far too many cases of the GSA charging unreasonable fees which essentially prevent the execution of the FOIA.

  3. @ZekeWeeks says:

    Sounds like a rather broad information request to me- was the request for all memos related to iPad consideration by all federal agencies?

  4. Philoponos says:

    Freedom isn’t free
    It costs folks like you and me
    And if we don’t all chip in 
    We’ll never pay that bill
    Freedom isn’t free
    No, there’s a hefty fuckin’ fee.

  5. Eric says:

    The requester must be a FOIA noob. The gov’t is allowed to charge something like $45 / hour for search and review if you’re not a journalist or academic (think company). The general public gets the first few hours of search / review for free. FOIA experts know how to go back and forth and appeal crazy estimated charges because of overbroad interpretation of requests.

  6. wayforge.com says:

    Government is expert at doing this – for example, it costs more to fight a parking ticket (and they pretty much tell you they will rule against you regardless) than it does to pay it, so parking rangers can ticket whoever they please whether they are parked illegally or not.  Similarly, the government can stop you from exercising your rights by making it extremely difficult to do so.

    • benenglish says:

      …it costs more to fight a…ticket…than it does to pay it…

      This actually happens on a federal level, too.  Seriously, there’s such a thing as parking tickets and speeding tickets, etc., issued by federal agencies.  For example, on some riding trails in national parks, park rangers will pull out a radar gun and ticket folks on mountain bikes for riding too fast on the trails.  Seriously.

      But my favorite “gotcha by the short hairs” story happened to me.  I actually got a ticket for exceeding the 5mph speed limit in a federal building parking garage.  I knew the ticket would be easy to beat on several grounds but primarily there were two.  First, the Federal Protective Service officer who wrote the ticket didn’t have a speed gun or any method to determine my speed other than his personal observation.  Second, I had been in the Federal District courts in Houston (where this occurred) on many occasions and I damn well knew I had a 50-50 chance of drawing one of the judges who would have gone nuclear on the ass of anyone from the U.S. Attorneys office who dared to put a traffic ticket on the miscellaneous docket of the court.  Barring that, none of the judges would put up with a request for a jury trial.  They would have viewed it as so massively beneath them and such an egregious waste of time that I felt sure an “in the interest of justice” motion for dismissal would be immediately granted.

      I hired an attorney and waited to receive notice of my court date.

      I got that notice.  It specified that I should arrive for my hearing at a certain time, at a certain address of the federal courts, in a specific court number.  IN MIAMI, FLORIDA.

      There was no way I could pay for myself and my attorney to travel from Houston to Florida to fight a $35 ticket.  The FPS claimed that the court being in the wrong venue was a regrettable mistake but that I still had no choice but to show up there if I wanted to request a change of venue.

      I considered taking a few vacation days to go to court and handle it myself.  There was a chance that I could have gone alone, announced to the court that I was representing myself and ready to proceed, and then move to have the ticket dismissed when the FPS officer was a no-show.  I’ve had to speak in Federal District Court often enough that I would have felt comfortable doing that.  However, a contending motion by the US Attorneys office to postpone could have shot me down by requiring me to go away and come back another day.  Two trips to Florida was too much of a risk for me to take.

      I mailed in a check.

      • didn’t have a speed gun or any method to determine my speed other than his personal observation

        Traffic cops I knew when I worked for our state road authority used v=d/t to calculate speed and issued tickets on that basis. They would sit behind a truck and measure the time taken to cover a known distance. In a garage it would be simple to calculate the time taken to cover (say) the distance between two pylons or two levels (or whatever) at the limit and book you if you did the distance too fast.My Dad was out working in Western Australia where the roads are dead flat for hundreds of kilometers. He crossed a line drawn across the road, then another line. Beside that line was a sign advising that police use those lines to book cars for speeding from aircraft. Some wag had annotated the sign with his own comment: Pigs in space!.

        • Surely it has nothing to do with their equation proficiency; but more to do with the fact that there’s absolutely no evidence that you were speeding?

          It’s still a case of “This guy was speeding ’cause I say he was”.

          • It’s still a case of “This guy was speeding ’cause I say he was”.

            Sure but thats the only way it can be done in a car park. Radar and laser guns don’t work below 40 km/h.

      • Guest says:

        I too would have mailed in a check. 70 of them actually, for 50 cents a piece, over the course of 2 weeks.

      • brerrabbit23 says:

        YFW your hopes at gaming the system were countered by the system gaming you back.

  7. Jeesh. If the government really needs money that bad, they could end a half-dozen wars.

  8. BBNinja says:

    They want 100k for a little paperwork but they’re totally cool about letting BP write off 10 billion dollars they spent for cleaning up their oil spill and shifting that onto the taxpayers.

  9. jeligula says:

    We have no way of knowing what information he requested.  For all we know, he wanted half the Library of Congress and they responded the only way they knew how.  But I agree that it does seem to be a method to keep information out of our hands.

    • Genre Slur says:

      “…seem to be a method..”
      Come on, did Douglas Adams get you to type that understatement? The readers want to know if he’s ‘channeling’ in BB threads…

  10. Moriarty says:

    I kind of like the idea of it being paid, and then it’s just being some clerk’s job for the next few years to find memos about ipads.

  11. grs says:

    For real. What was the FOIA for? I FOIA all the time and it’s usually free, sometimes a couple bucks to copy docs. And I get binders of data from state, county, and municipal agencies (Although now many agencies are more than happy to send digital scans for free via email or ftp if it’s a massive dump).

    Let’s see the FOIA request.

  12. Brainspore says:

    Looks like the Feds figured out a way to balance the budget after all.

  13. Tully says:

    The request is so broadly worded that the costs to search for responsive documents could easily reach over $100,000.  Not offering an opinion on whether the government should pass those costs onto a citizen making a FOIA request. 

    • travtastic says:

      How the hell could it reasonably cost that much to look up information and mail copies of it?

    • codesuidae says:

      > The request is so broadly worded that the costs to search for responsive documents could easily reach over $100,000.

      They are doing it wrong.

      Google, search for “the”: About 25,270,000,000 results (0.26 seconds)What the hell is so hard about making public documents searchable?

  14. BrotherPower says:

    This country seems more like a giant 419 scam every day.

  15. James F. Ryan says:

    For the broad sweep of this FOIA request, that number seems somewhat justified.  This FOIA could conceivably cover EVERY mention of the merits of purchasing an iPad by any employee at any agency.  Each agency has its own IT structure, e-mail servers and e-mail vendors.  To aggregate such data would either require a bevy of folks combing hundreds of different servers, plus collecting paper-only communication.  Or EVERY federal employee searching their entire in and out boxes for the word “iPad” and “tablet” which even if only 10-20 minutes of work, would multiply very quickly out if calculated in lost time.  At an average GS-9 level, that’s roughly $4 for 10 minutes for one employee…

  16. subhan says:

    Seems pretty reasonable to me, when you actually read the bit about how they are requesting a copy of every single document or correspondence involving a discussion of ipads for employee use.  This will include emails.  Someone will have to manually review every single email (once they are retrieved from archives or backup tapes) that mentions an ipad, then redact & print the relevant ones.  Frankly, I think they are getting off cheaply for a request of this magnitude. Maybe a more focused request would allow for more efficient search and a more reasonable price tag?

  17. Genre Slur says:

    The number of comments supporting monetary value of the FOIA request does it: PROOF that Adams is scripting aspects of reality (looking quickly over both shoulders, glancing under the laptop, checking behind the bookshelf) — come on! The jig is up! Where is hiding!?

  18. Nathaniel says:

    That’s a very precise figure, but they don’t show how they worked it out.  Someone should file a FOIA request to find out…

    • travtastic says:

      Dear sir,

      Since your submitted FOIA request is highly meta, your charge will be ($113,680 x $113,680) = $12,923,142,400.

      Please make your check payable to the General Services Administration.

    • Good point (all humour aside).

      In the UK there are certain estimates that need to be itemised.  I think a government bill like this should be itemised; then at least if they’re taking the piss they have to go to some effort to take the piss; rather than just making up a big number.

  19. David Tooley says:

    This FOIA request would require thousands of people to search through documents from over 2 years. After that, lawyers would have to review the documents to determine if they are relevant and if they can be legally released in full or must be redacted. If a private company had to do this kind of “discovery,” there would be an extra zero on that price.

  20. David Tooley says:

    Future Boing Boing post: “Taxpayers footing the bill for unreasonably burdensome FOIA requests!”

  21. bkad says:

    The request is so broadly worded that the costs to search for responsive documents could easily reach over $100,000.  Not offering an opinion on whether the government should pass those costs onto a citizen making a FOIA request.

    I can believe that. The company I work for had to respond to a broad subpoena for documentation once; if a FOIA request is any similar, I absolutely believe that it could be that expensive. The cost drivers in our case were mostly the time spent reviewing thousands of documents and emails before releasing them, but even the initial gathering process was expensive, because our systems are decentralized enough that many different people had to individually trawl through their own records and pull the relevant references — it wasn’t just a global email/disk computer search.

    That said, I agree with Nathan that at least a little more itemization would make this more palatable (and appease the ‘evil government is keeping you down!’ conspiracists).

  22. Snig says:

    Someone should develop an app to make it easier to search through gov’t documents.  That’d likely drive the price down.

  23. dds1981 says:

    Perhaps the submitter should set up a Kickstarter account to finance the fee. ;-)

  24. David Tooley says:

    In 2010, the GSA collected a TOTAL of $50,243.49 in processing fees for all its FOIA requests. http://www.gsa.gov/graphics/admin/2010GSAFOIARpt.pdf. 

  25. boingboingfan says:

    Other agencies seem able to both find and share their observations about iPads and other tablet computers.  I spotted these files at the GovernmentAttic.org website today:

    National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) internal agency records which discuss the merits of iPads and/or similar pad/tablet computer devices for agency employee use, 2011 – PDF 6.9 MB
    http://tinyurl.com/3o7mzgt

    Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) internal agency records which discuss the merits of iPads and/or similar pad/tablet computer devices for agency employee use, 2011 – PDF 182 KB
    http://tinyurl.com/3k6v66f
     
    Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) internal agency records which discuss the merits of iPads and/or similar pad/tablet computer devices for agency employee use, 2011 – PDF 1.6 MB
    http://tinyurl.com/3hf34a3
     
    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) internal agency records which discuss the merits of iPads and/or similar pad/tablet computer devices for agency employee use, 2011 – PDF 1.3 MB
    http://tinyurl.com/42uprwv
     
    Federal Trade Commission (FTC) internal agency records which discuss the merits of iPads and/or similar pad/tablet computer devices for agency employee use, 2011 – PDF 3.8 MB
    http://tinyurl.com/43pkvnd

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      boingboingfan,

      We’d greatly prefer that you not use URL shorteners. Disqus automatically …s URLs, but allows you to see the full address in your browser’s URL bar.

  26. Will Sanders says:

    Looks like somebody was reading a menu in a foreign language and did not realize they had ordered a whole roast ox and trimmings for 100….. As said before think this is just a mistake, the requester asking for an enormous quality of info and the government thinking “Okay, well at $x per ream of paper times y reams…..
    Ask and ye shall receive can bit you in the butt.

  27. Ryan Lenethen says:

    Having dealt with FOI requests personally (not in the USA) I can attest to the public essentially asking unreasonable questions, phrased WAY too broadly, thinking public servants are required to provide them with anything they want. Usually the officer working with the requester will try to limit the scope of the request to a more limited realistic request. So in this instance, pick a branch of government, a type of record, and a date range, and you and could probably get your records for free. Refuse to re-scope your request because you feel you deserve all records, fine just be prepared for a ridiculous price tag attached to it. Public servants work for the public, not you individually, and its not fair for one individual to suck up everyone Else’s time and tax dollars just because they think they have some god given right to do so. The only people who pay for those broader questions seem to be lawyers who want to use the information in a court case, that is probably worth it. Anyway, I have zero sympathy for the requester.

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