The passport services slowdown

“Let’s go to Europe in July,” says my husband. Planning three months prior to a summer trip should be a breeze. We opted out of renewing my younger son’s passport in January before his Mexico trip since renewals were taking 10 weeks and his passport remained valid one week past his return date. Now I learn the routine processing time has increased to 13 weeks.

For his previous passport, my husband and I both took our children to a local post-office passport acceptance facility. Because they were under 16, we showed their birth certificate to prove parental relationship, gave parental assent, and showed our IDs to the agent. With an appointment, the process was quick but posted weekly walk-in hours meant passport applications could be submitted that week if willing to queue. 

Then I learned my boys aren’t eligible for mail-in renewals, although their older sister was able to renew recently by mailing the passport forms, passport photos, and expired passport to the State Department. Although those 16+ are classified as adults, those holding child passports need a passport acceptance agent to review their birth certificate or old passport before a new one can be issued. Why not allow those 16+ with a prior passport to skip the in-person acceptance process since they don’t need parental permission to obtain a passport? 

No passport acceptance facilities within 50 miles had available appointments and while I was willing to queue, no facilities posted walk-in hours. NextDoor patrons had posted various locations rumored to take walk-ins when they begged with kids in tow. With the application, expired passport, passport photos, driver’s licenses, and boys, I tried the new passport office at my local library. 

Since library passport appointments were half-hour intervals from 1 to 8 p.m., odds were high we could squeeze in. Since a family with a young child arrived at the same time, we waited outside the small passport room. From the open door, I clearly heard the worker tell the parents, “You’re supposed to bring the original birth certificate,” and I expected them to be ejected. But no, she used the copier twice, presumably to copy the birth certificate and the parent IDs. The process took 10 minutes.

Once they left, I entered the room with my boys, placing my papers on her desk. She told me she had no more appointments for the day. Undeterred, I asked her to review my documents and photos to confirm that they would be accepted. She complied, including measuring my photos with her tool, and declared all valid but stated she doesn’t take walk-ins. She gave me two options: (1) login to the website after midnight when they released the next available appointment 60 days from today or (2) drive to post offices that she previously accepted walk-ins pre-pandemic. I asked nicely if she could take my sons’ applications and save my boys from missing school to travel 20+ miles to a passport office that may or may not take walk-ins. She declined.

The new post-pandemic work ethic eludes me -- where large numbers of working-age adults quit their jobs in “the Great Resignation.” The passport acceptance service at my local library is open five days per week for seven hours so they can accept 14 passports per day or 70 passports a week. The lady had already looked over my information but couldn’t be bothered to accept it. She willingly overlooked the previous client's failure to bring an original birth certificate and document copies. Our country has strayed so far from its origins where our founding fathers envisioned a nation espousing freedom, limited government, and individual responsibility. 

The fundamental ethical principle “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has morphed into “that’s not my responsibility.” If the library passport worker was told to go home after she had accepted 14 applications, she likely would work less than two hours per day. If she earned a bonus for each accepted passport, she might happily post her walk-in hours and spread the happy news. 

As it stands, the library and post office get a $35 check for each passport application they accept. Although the library is well-funded by property tax, the post office received a $107 billion bailout last year. Instead of annually raising the cost of stamps, they could advertise walk-in passport services so we don’t need to wait two months to get our passports accepted. Can we improve the work ethic with capitalism if we can't revamp moral fortitude?


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