The family and I drove to a Post Office the other morning to get passports for an upcoming trip. It was an excellent example for the kids of Government customer service in action. Actually, what I mean is “inaction”.
After driving about thirty minutes we arrived at a Post Office in a small town. It was a cute town. I’ve not been there before. I’d like to visit again, as long as it’s not to get a passport…or mail a letter. As we walked into the building, we saw a sign that said “Sorry, no passport applications today”. Amanda had checked online, and this office did offer passport service on a walk-in basis. The sign looked old — really old — like it had been there a really long time. I can only hope that they kept it in a drawer, and it was brought out and used over and over again whenever their passport person had the sniffles.
We didn’t need to walk in further. We saw someone there we knew, who also happened to be there to get her passport. They had told her there was a Post Office about an hour north that was taking applications. I decided that would be a bad idea, since anyone else turned away at this location would be hightailing up to the other one.
My thought was to go home, but Amanda suggested a location that was actually closer, about a half hour east. Feeling burned, and wanting to take no additional chances, Amanda called on the way to make sure they were doing passport applications as advertised on the Web site. The person on the other end of the line confirmed they were. Before she could hang up, I said “Ask if there’s a line, and how long”. She asked, and got the customer-no-service” answer of “I’m really not sure”. That was really helpful.
We arrived at the second location forty-five minutes later, thanks to a goofy GPS route that for some reason I followed, even though I knew it made no sense at the time. It was close to 11:00 AM as we walked in, and we saw people scattered around in no particular order, and in no obvious line. They all had this resigned look that you get when you’re stuck somewhere, with no control over your situation. A nice man sitting on the floor, much nicer than he could have been considering, told us they had just taken away the sign-in sheet, and they were probably not taking any more names for the day. He had been in line since 8:50–ten minutes before the passport desk opened. I was not sorry the list had just disappeared. I wouldn’t be staying anyway. Off we went, to a nice brunch with the kids, and to try again another day.
Next time, we’ll make sure we go to a Post Office that takes appointments. Fortunately, we should have no problem getting our passports in time for our trip. My wife had heard that the wait for new passports was only 4 1/2 weeks. Only in government, can 4 1/2 weeks to turn around some simple paperwork be a good thing. Of course, seeing government “inaction” in action, it’s not surprising.