Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Small Scale Corporatism/Crony Capitalism

Today is Tuesday, June 28th and on Friday, July 1st the kids and I are flying from New York, NY to Victoria, Canada.  On Sunday somewhat by accident, I discovered that my daughter's passport had expired. I had been entering in passport numbers into the airline's website for our upcoming trip on Friday to Canada to visit family.

Online I found out from http://travel.state.gov/passport/npic/agencies/agencies_913.html that:
This Agency issues the US Passport Card on-site!
Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., local time, M-F, excluding Federal holidays
Schedule An Appointment 24/7: 1-877-487-2778
I called. It's all automated but you can schedule an appointment for 1-2 day service provided that you are
traveling within 14 days. Great!

The next available appointment is on July 7th. Hmm, that's on a Thursday 11 days away. So the hotline has only Thurs. July 7th and Fri. July 8th available. I find out that I can get an actual person tomorrow morning at 7:30 am. I plan to call at 7:30 sharp. Meanwhile, I fill out the passport application form online and print it out while my wife takes my daughter to get a passport photo taken. I'm all set.

My wife informs me that the 'expedite' option at the post office is currently 2-3 weeks.  Funny, I found a different time frame: 4-5 days but with no guarantees. Both were government websites but either way we needed a faster option.  I'll call in the morning, speak to an advisor and figure it all out.  There's no reason to panic.

The next morning I'm in the system at 7:30 am. There's no 'speak to an advisor' in the schedule an appointment option. So I hang up because I can't go back to the first menu anymore and select the 'change an appointment' which actually does have a 'speak to an advisor' option. Oh, no advisors until 8 a.m.

I call back at 8 a.m. and after a short wait get an advisor. 'Let me transfer you to the schedule an appointment menu'.

'Nooooooo! I was just there and there are no appointments until July 7th'. 'When are you leaving again?' 'July 1st'. So now she transfers me to someone who can help me and I go on hold for a very long time with music so low that I keep thinking I've been dropped. Finally, I get a very nice lady. 'Sorry, there are no appointments until July 7th. Wait, let me check for cancellations. Sorry, none.'  I get the option of making an appointment in Philadelphia, Connecticut, Boston or Buffalo. Only Buffalo has appointments that we would still make our flight but Buffalo is a little bit far away. I ask if I can just show up without an appointment. 'No'. 'Can I get by with an expired passport and a birth certificate?' She is very sad that she can't help me.  Meanwhile, my wife is now late for work.

Okay, panic!

I've already found private companies that issue same day or overnight passports so I asked her if that was an option.  'I cannot advise you on that, sir' was all she said.

My wife said she found one with 99%+ positive reviews.   I called and found out what I need to bring, packed up the wife and kids and headed down to the office.  Yes my wife had to come along unless she filled out some other form and had it notarized.  Well, the whole operation was only supposed to take an hour.  15-20 minutes in the office, take an envelope to the post office and bring back an envelope to their office.  In their office everything was very professional and efficient.  They made some photocopies, we signed some forms and wrote some checks.  Then they packaged up an envelope and securely sealed it and said to take it to a specific window at the post office and said not to tamper with the envelope or the application becomes void.

We get to the post office and wait.  There's about 8 people in front of us and each person takes about 20 minutes.  When we finally get up to the counter, she adds some identification verification to the application form and we have to sign in front of her.  Then she packs it all up in another envelope, seals it to the hilt, gives us the 'do not tamper' spiel again and tells us to bring it back to our 'expeditor'.  Okay, I learned a new word.  So far, there has been nothing that we couldn't have done.  But now our expeditor will do their black box voodoo behind the scenes.  I'm guessing that expeditors have booked up all the appointments so that you cannot get one and so you have to hire them.

So there you have it.  Government and business working together to screw the individual and make a few bucks through rules, regulations and bureaucracy.  Most people in my place saw a waste of time, money and effort not to mention aggravation.  I saw a blog post!

P.S.  The last time I was on an American airplane was in January.  I ordered a tuna fish sandwich.  Well, the tuna came in a small can where you pull the lid off.  Now the lid is metal, thin and sharp as anything.  Needless to say, if 6 big guys all ordered the tuna fish, I'd be more than a little nervous.  So the next time you are at the airport and go through all the security rigamarole, you may wonder whether it's really for you to feel secure. Bon Voyage!