100 Million Pennies For Your Thoughts? DEA Hands MuckRock A $1.4 Million Estimate For Responsive Documents
from the one-agency's-pocket-change-is-another-entity's-small-fortune dept
The EFF recently kicked off a contest for the “most outrageous response to a Freedom of Information Act request” and we already have a frontrunner for the first inaugural “Foilie.” MuckRock’s loose confederation of FOIA rabblerousers has been hit with a $1.4 million price tag for John Dyer’s request for documents related to the “localization and capture” of Mexican drug lord “El Chapo.” (Or Joaquin Guzman, as he was presumably known to his mom.)
The price tag for the requested documents is almost absurdly high. Almost. There are some mitigating factors that might keep this request from snagging the coveted “Foilie.” For one, there’s a whole lot of responsive documents.
In fairness, the request is quite broad in scope, and the estimated 13,051 case files would create considerable workload.
But on the other hand, the estimate seems to have been pulled out of thin air, rather than based on any actual calculations.
But assuming that $200,000 of that fee came from photocopying (which would put the total number of pages at two million), that would put the time estimate at over 40,000 hours, or 1785 days. That’s almost five years of constant work without breaks.
And while $1.4 million may be pocket change for an agency with a budget in the low billions, it’s a much bigger number than MuckRock’s system is built to handle. Attempting to punch this estimated total into the “Cost” field returned a “What is this? A phone number??!?” error.
Naturally, the DEA has denied MuckRock’s requested fee waiver, citing a whole page worth of reasons, but really mainly because there’s no way it would kick 13,000 documents loose without collecting a substantial amount from the requester. On the other hand, this sky-high fee runs counter to the intended purpose of the Freedom of Information laws: to “free information.” That doesn’t mean it should necessarily be “free,” but it does mean that agencies are supposed to do their best to ensure the public isn’t priced out of accessing information.
This request will have to be narrowed considerably if MuckRock hopes to obtain anything on this subject from the DEA. While it does have crowdfunding options, the chances of donors putting together over a million dollars seems unlikely. And the DEA itself could use some guidance on putting together fee estimates, seeing as some simple math exposes how its $1.4 million quote is completely unmoored from reality.