Thursday, June 07, 2007

Somewhere, Grover Norquist must be smiling...

While trolling the JM Times this am, I came across this story. Seems that tens of thousands of people are having serious trouble getting their passports in time for trips, despite paying expediting fees, despite filing for their passports months in advance. I then noticed there's a huge increase in demand for passports, according to the story, and wondered why:

Much of the spike in applications is attributed to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which went into effect Jan. 23 and requires passports, merchant mariner documents or frequent-traveler Nexus cards for air travelers returning from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Next January, the requirement is likely to be extended to ship, rail and road travelers.

Okay, increasing requirements to get into this country. Where did this recommendation come from, DHS?

This change in travel document requirements is the result of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, which Congress subsequently passed into law in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

The State Department is a wee bit more descriptive:

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to develop and implement a plan to require all travelers, U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike, to present a passport or other document, or a combination of documents, that denote identity and citizenship when entering the United States. Congress amended portions of the Act in 2006. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is the Administration’s proposed plan to implement this mandate.

The goal of the Initiative is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors by providing standardized, secure and reliable documentation which will allow the Department of Homeland Security to quickly, reliably and accurately identify a traveler.

I'm trying to find the actual text that changed the law, but haven't yet.

In the meantime, here's what I don't get (take it away, JM Times):

But somehow, the government seemed caught by surprise when crowds began besieging passport offices this spring.

Wait, what? Let's see that again:

But somehow, the government seemed caught by surprise when crowds began besieging passport offices this spring.

Caught by surprise.


You implement a plan mandating that passports are now necessary for air travelers to Canada, Mexico, and the Carribean, and you're SHOCKED when your volume nearly doubles?

Did it not occur to the federal gov't to, oh, I don't know, hire some more people to deal with the process? Did no one think, maybe there are going to be more pasport applications, we should staff up to deal with this new law? Nope, and instead, you have stories about people waiting months, people showing up at 3am and not even being first in line, people spending whole days to deal with this.

What kills me about this is that, once again, our government was caught "unprepared" to deal. Another case of a meaningless mandate, which doesn't provide the funds or other resources necessary for the program to be implemented successfully. Oh, and other zinger about this program?

The problem extends nationwide, said Rob Smith, executive director of the National Association of Passport and Visa Services in Silver Spring, Md., an organization that represents about two dozen of the largest companies registered with the Passport Office to hand-carry or otherwise expedite a limited number of applications for a fee higher than what the government charges.

This year, Smith said, the government is expected to more than double the seven million passports issued in 2002.

Loosely translated, it means even the rich folks are having problems. But scratching just a bit deeper, you'll find that yes, there are companies where, if you have the money and time, will help you expedite the process. It's a two tier system, where private companies ensure that applications get to the top while a regular Jane or John has to go through everything on their own and hope for the best. Which, if this article is any indication, is not very good, not due to the quality of work of the passport folks, who I'm sure are working hard, but because of the sheer "unanticipated volume".

Some conservatives are so convinced that government must not provide servies that they're willing to screw millions to make a point. I'm not sure if this was intentional with regard to this specific case, but it a points to an incredibly shaky track record.

Get your passports early, people.

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Blogger sched1/david. said...

i got another passport in january of last year, and i was shocked at how efficient the process was. the people were courteous too. i got there early, was seen early, and got out quickly. double the people wanting passports, though... yeah. i like the connection between this and other initiatives that sounded noble on some level but didn't have the cash they needed to deliver on promises.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Ruby K said...

Yeah, my issue isn't with the people doing their jobs, it's whit the people NOT doing their jobs. I'm trying to find the text that the admin used to build this program, but if that text is from 2004 legislation, the had three years. And if it was from the amendment in 2006, they had 6 months. 6 months to hire more screeners, to bring more offices online, 6 months to deal with additional capacity.

The micro question becomes: will they get their shit together before January 08, when this mandate will be extended to include road and rail travel too. Everyone driving, busing and training to Mexico or Canada will now need passports. How many more people do you think that is?

11:13 AM  
Anonymous AtoZ said...

It's a two tier system, where private companies ensure that applications get to the top while a regular Jane or John has to go through everything on their own and hope for the best.

Isn't that kind of like the difference between normal mail and Express Mail? Or between the post office and FedEx? If you pay more then you can request expedited service. What exactly is wrong with that?

9:25 AM  

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