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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Complaining: It's the American Way

In a misguided effort to pay off the national debt and save Social Security from bankruptcy, NARA has proposed raising the price of a Civil War pension file from $37 to $125. Friday is the last day to voice objections to the whole range of proposed price hikes. Here's how to submit a comment:

  1. Read all the nasty details in this PDF file.
  2. Go here, search for Document ID NARA-07-0001-0001, then click on the Comments icon.
  3. Give them a piece of your mind.
  4. Wait for Dick Cheney to arrive in his black helicopter and whisk you away to Guantanamo Bay.

Rick

Chris, thanks for telling us how to express our views on this issue. The fee for a copy of a Civil War pension file would rise from $37 to $125, regardless of how many pages are in the file. The Federal Register’s discussion on this topic says that NARA charges a fixed fee, rather than a fee per page, "to expedite handling." The Register also notes that in 2000 NARA estimated that Civil War pension files had an average page count of about 40 to 50 pages, but that a recent study found that many of the files "have page counts up to 200 pages or more." Over the last few years I have gotten copies of seven Civil War pension files and here are their page counts: 12, 19, 19, 35, 35, 40 and 64. The average length is 32 pages. Raising the fee per file from $37 to $125 would raise the cost per page from $1.16 to $3.91. The cost per page for the 12-page file would go from $3.08 to $10.42. Even the average per page fee of $3.91 would be far higher than the actual cost to provide this service. The photocopying fees should be based on the actual number of pages, not on the size of the very largest files.

Jason

I fail to understand how charging another $88 will "expedite handling". What does the dollar amount have to do with it? It's not like the NARA employees are working on commission and that they'll be fighting over who gets to fulfill that 5 page request the fastest.

Chris

These records really need to be digitized—for their own sake and for the sake of researchers.

Barring that, there should be a per-file fee that covers the cost of finding and pulling the file, and then a low per-page fee to cover the cost of copies. Genealogists shouldn't be penalized for having ancestors with meager paper trails.

Steve

Chris, Thanks for reminding us about the deadline for comments. I just sent in my comments online. At the time I posted those comments, I found 898 comments previously submitted. Unfortunately, that's not a particularly impressive number of comments, given the number of people affected by this proposal.

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