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FEMA demands La. paper shell out $200,000 for public records

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  1. Freedom of Information
The Advocate [Baton Rouge] must pay more than $200,000 to receive documents it requested related to the Federal Emergency Management…

The Advocate [Baton Rouge] must pay more than $200,000 to receive documents it requested related to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s post-hurricane contracts, according to the agency.

FEMA said it would only provide the records if the newspaper pays the fee. The approximately $209,990 is what FEMA determined it would cost to research and compile the more than two million documents that the agency deemed The Advocate is asking for in its request.

The newspaper first requested the documents in September 2006. FEMA didn’t respond until May 2007, when it sent a letter saying the request would require compiling millions of documents and that The Advocate had 10 days to pay the fee to receive the records. The newspaper responded in June 2007, asking for more of an explanation and whether the records are available electronically. FEMA finally responded to that inquiry on March 4, saying it would waive the 10-day time limit and specified that the records were not available electronically.

“It’s ludicrous,” said Pam Mitchell-Wagner, executive director of the Louisiana Press Association. “It’s an astronomical amount. Certainly, with everything that FEMA has done here, the records should be open and available because there have been so many questions.”

The documents at hand include copies of contracts, billing invoices and payments and records related to inspection and maintenance contracts FEMA awarded after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana.

Mitchell-Wagner noted that FEMA has provided documents to other area news outlets for no charge and said she doesn’t understand why the agency would force such an “inconceivable” financial burden onto The Advocate in particular.