Passport Ordeal

I received a call from a local resident asking about my ordeal getting a passport for Matt.  Apparently, my wife has shared how we were able to work through the process to get the passport with a several people.  Word has gotten out and now I’m a ‘resource’.

The biggest problem is that the bureaucracy is under extreme pressure.  Too few people are attempting to deal with too many requests.  No one is left to tell everyone what they are supposed to be doing.  (I’ll illustrate that point better below.)

Whether you apply in person, or you apply at your local post office – you need the following items:

  1. Two passport photos (although we only needed one)
  2. Evidence of citizenship.  For us, this was a birth certificate.
  3. Your social security number.
  4. Photo Id such as a driver’s license
  5. The application itself.
  6. Money

We applied for Matt’s passport on April 3rd of 2007.  With the current crush of requests, you can not inquire about a passport issue until 14 days before you depart.  So for us, that meant we could not ask until May 4th.  And we did.  Becky tried for several days and was unable to reach a human.  We went through the standard escalation process including calling our congressman.  Despite others telling us that they had been provided with back door phone numbers – the aide to Boehner told us that we were mistaken, and the congressman had no influence over the situation.  So be it.

We talked with others who had experience getting passports, and we were presented with a variety of approaches – some contradictory to each other.  We were told we would ‘walk through’ the process.  We were told we should expedite the passport.   We were told expediting a passport shortly before the passport was needed could create confusion and ultimately a lost passport.  We were told you needed to make an appointment for the walk through.  We were told you could just show up for the walk through.

On Monday evening, May 11th I sat down with my cell phone and got comfortable with the redial button.  (By the way – for English speaking applicants looking for status the key combination is 1-3-1).  What became apparent is that the government’s phone system is stressed.  On many attempts, the recorded voice came on and told me “Due to the high call volume we are not able to accept your call now” and would hang up on me.  On other occasions, it accepted me into a call queue.

On Monday evening I finally talked to a person.  She asked for Matt’s name and the last four digits of his social security number.  She also wanted to know when he planned to travel.  Despite my trials getting to talk to a person – she was helpful (more then I knew immediately).  She indicated that she had made a note on his file that he needed his passport by the 16th of May.

The next day I grew anxious again and decided that I needed to have a backup plan.  I decided I needed to call back in and confirm that I was not being patronized.  I woke up Tuesday morning (they open up for calls at 6:45 AM). After about 30 minutes I reached a human again.  She confirmed that the note had been attached to Matt’s file and also confirmed that our worthless state representative had also had a staffer leave two notes on the file (so I’ll not pick on him too much).  I asked the last day I could walk through the process myself and she said I could not walk the process less than 48 hours before the trip (Thursday).  I told her I had been unable to make an appointment (the automated system is down as far as I’m concerned) and she indicated that no appointments were necessary.  I could simply walk into the facility.  Because I was by now a skeptical person I asked her to confirm that last piece of information with her supervisor.  That person confirmed that we could walk through the process without an appointment.

Following that conversation, I decided that I could not in good conscious sit around and hope that the passport would show up.  I decided I would go to Chicago and walk through the process for the passport.  My employer was gracious and allowed me to take the day off on short notice.  We secured the necessary paperwork (see list) and set our plans for Wednesday (since I didn’t trust I would not encounter problems – I moved the trip back from Thursday to Wednesday in case there were issues).

We woke up at 3:00 AM eastern and took off at 4:00 AM.  We arrived at the Federal building at 8:10.  The building doesn’t open until 9:00 AM and we were queued up half way around the building.  We made it into the building by 9:00.  Each of us was given a slip of paper with a number on it.  We passed through a metal detector and sent to the second floor of the building.

On the second floor, we waited in a line for 30 minutes before being allowed into a larger waiting room.  We were pretty lucky – because after we were allowed in things slowed down.  They put people who had already applied in one set of seats and those who were there for some other purpose.

On this particular day, they processed your paperwork and (I believe) submitted the request to have the passport produced.  Matt received a slip of paper with a control number and a time to reappear later in the day to receive his completed passport.  That time it turns out is very precise.  You are expected to leave the building after submitting your request and are not allowed back in the building until after your appointed time.  The lobby guards just won’t let you in earlier than your slip of paper indicates.

So to bring this ugly story to a close – the passport was available at 3:30 and were on the road back to Troy by 4:30 (just in time for Chicago rush hour traffic).

Oh – and I almost forgot.  After spending 10 hours driving to and from Chicago and waiting in various lines for 8 hours, I was drained.  The interesting twist was that a passport was Fedex’d to our house and arrived Saturday morning – the original customer service person had been successful getting the passport processed.  I don’t regret having spent my time walking through the process because I’m pretty sure I would not have slept between Thursday and Saturday morning.