I have to hand it to the Michigan Department of State Police and its Freedom of Information Act division. Not only did they want nearly $7 million ($6,876,303.90, to be exact) to process my FOIA request, but they now seem to be dragging their feet in explaining how they arrived at what is recorded on Sunshine Review as the nation's highest FOIA fee.
We have some clues based on the State Police response. I requested documentation related to all spending reports regarding homeland security grants from 2002 to the present, including spreadsheets, inventory lists, etc. The reply stated that there are 2,045,783 pages, which cost $.36 a page to copy. Even at $736,481.88, however, it's not the photocopying that is driving the big cost. The remaining $6,139,822.02 is attributed to "Search, Examination and Deletion."
In the State of Michigan, information-gathering charges for FOIA requests are based on the hourly rate of the lowest-paid employee capable of retrieving the information. I was told that e-mails can be retrieved only by that e-mail account's owner. Therefore, if the State Police director has to spend 10 hours going through his or her e-mail, I would be charged that person's hourly rate.
It's mind-boggling to think that the number of people involved in compiling data for my request have salaries that would add up to $6,139,822.02
So, I followed up with another FOIA request asking for all documents that explain how the State Police and its FOIA office "reached the conclusion that filling the Mackinac Center's FOIA request of September 29, 2009 would result in a processing fee of $6,876,303.90."
The deadline for a response was December 15, 2009.
If the State Police were as diligent about the handling of Homeland Security money as they are in keeping information from Michigan taxpayers, we could sleep easier at night knowing our money is well spent.