Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Passport Saga

Many of you may remember my post back in February about the problem with getting my passport renewed. Here's the story in a nutshell. I sent in my old passport for renewal in January. I received my new passport in February. Upon receipt of the new passport I saw that they had misspelled my name. In my opinion, this is an unacceptable mistake on their part because 1) it costs the taxpayers money to fix, and 2) it is completely avoidable by the simple process of proofreading and checking your work. The correction of this one letter mistake has consumed the last month and a half. And through this process of getting it fixed, I have come to realize that I have severely underestimated the inefficiency and ineptitude of our United States Government. Allow me to elaborate.

Upon receipt of the misspelled passport, I immediately began my internet research to discern how to go about getting this mistake fixed. All of my information came directly from the United States government's Passport Agency website. The passport was to be returned, along with a form that was specifically created for necessary corrections and yet was distinctly similar to the original form that I had filled out for renewal. As a matter of fact, all of the information was exactly the same except the part on the new form that asked for the misspelled word followed by its correctly spelled form (don't they have electronic records?). Incidentally, the download of said form did not go smoothly. We had to reformat it and shrink it to get the form to fit within the printable margins of the page. I also had to mail (again) proof of my properly spelled name. According to the Passport Agency's website, I did not need to mail additional passport photos since my incorrect passport had been issued within the past 90 days (which is how it should be since my appearance has not changed in the last 90 days and passport photos are expensive and it would be ludicrous to expect me to fork over more dough for passport photos when it was their mistake in the first place). So, according to the website's instructions, I mailed in my incorrect passport, the application/correction form, and my marriage license so they could get the process of correction going. And, of course, said documents were all mailed on my dime. Fast forward three weeks and I get a letter in the mail from the passport agency. It should be my new passport. But - you guessed it - it sure isn't my new passport. Instead, it's a letter stating that I need to submit additional passport photos in order for them to process and send me my new passport.

As you may imagine, I was livid. I called the phone number they listed for the passport agency, "should I have any questions" (you better believe I had some questions!). Due to "an unusually high call volume", however, I was on hold for an hour before I gave up because I had to get ready for work. Of course, the phone number was for anyone who had questions. That includes people who just want to know the status of their passport application. The next day, it was the same story. My lividness grew each day. Finally, on the the third day of calling, I was again on hold forever and finally decided I would just try emailing them. Unfortunately, that also didn't work since there was some issue with their email program on their website. No wonder they were experiencing an unusually high call volume. When the email didn't work, I decided to give them one more chance on the phone before I resorted to good old-fashioned snail mail. Surprisingly, I got through after only a half hour wait. It was a Christmas miracle! Unfortunately, after explaining to the nice lady my problem and her verifying that indeed I did not need to resubmit passport photos, she informed me that she could not help me and that all she could do was inform the passport agency of the problem and recommend that they send my passport. She told me that someone from the agency would be contacting me regarding the problem and that if I hadn't heard from them in two days, I should try calling again (because I don't have anything better to do than sit around on hold with the passport agency - or whoever it was I was speaking to since they could only inform the passport agency of what was going on).

Yes, this is our US Government at work. But, don't worry - it gets better. A couple of days later, I received a phone call from some man with a strong southern drawl who worked at the passport agency in South Carolina (and, no, I will not resort to generalizations about the incompetence of people from certain parts of our country at this point). He did not understand why I had questions because the letter should have explained everything. They needed photos. I then proceeded to explain to him what their website said and the instructions given there. I also explained to him that regardless of what the website says, passport photos are expensive and that I shouldn't have to pay for new ones to correct their mistake. The he said (in a strong southern drawl), "well, I don't know about that. I'm not familiar with what's on the website. I'll have to check on that and get back to you." And then he hung up.

I observed to Mr. Frisby that no privately run company in this country to get away with running their business in this manner. But, since there's only one place to get a passport, the passport agency can pretty much do whatever they want and everyone just has to deal with it. After not hearing back from the man after several days, I decided to try my luck on the phone again. I called them yesterday and after being on hold for an hour and a half (that is not an exaggeration - I read all about digital photograph formats, made dinner, ate dinner and cleaned up dinner all while on hold) someone finally picked up only to inform me that the records showed they had mailed my passport express mail that day and that I should receive it today. She then gave me the tracking number so I could track it online. I asked her if there was some other number that I could call so that if something went wrong I wouldn't have to wait for an hour and a half again. She said, "no, that's the only number." Thanks for the callback, dude.

Happily, I did indeed receive my passport today, with my name spelled correctly and no other mistakes that I could see. Over dinner last night, Mr. Frisby told me that my sister had remarked to him that Obama's iPod gift to the Queen of England may not have been a wise use of the taxpayers money. Later, I remarked to him that this whole passport fiasco was also not a very wise use of taxpayer money. However, at least the Queen of England will have hours of enjoyment from her taxpayer money iPod. All I get is to relive this hell in another 10 years!


Hilary said...

Jenni, reading that made me really annoyed and angry with your situation. I hope the hours on the phone weren't expensive. I've had similar frustrating experiences with the unemployment people. But not THAT bad.

What the Queen going to do with an iPod anyway?

Andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea said...

In my last job I had to call the IRS often regarding Federal Tax liens. Holy CRAP they make you wait FOREVER! Thank goodness for speaker phone, and nice co-workers that will listen for an answer when you can't "hold it" any longer.

Sharon said...

Jenni, your experience with the US government is exactly why I don't want them to run anymore programs with taxpayer dollars. Can you imagine a nationalized healthcare program with the kind of crap you dealt with? Or a bank? Or running the auto industry? Or trying to run energy? The government doesn't really do that much right, so why give them more responsibilities.

Ashlee said...

Sharon has a very valid point.

Sharon said...

This is Steve: Dude- you really need a kid.