Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Passing Blame For Passport Delays

The Senate is becoming quite vocal in its criticism of the State Department for "excessive delays" in providing passports for US citizens. The current backlog is due to new rules requiring US citizens to hold a passport when reentering the US by air from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. In the past, only proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate was required. In January 2008, the rules will be extended to include any US border crossing including air, land, and sea travel. (Washington Post: State Dept. Faulted on Hill for Passport Delays.)

According to the Senate, the State Department failed to anticipate the huge surge in passport requests, resulting in the current backlog. The State Department lists 10 weeks as the current wait time for new passport applications. 56 senators signed a letter initiated by Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) which read, "It is unacceptable that American citizens were missing trips because the State Department did not fully anticipate the increase in passport applications and take appropriate action to increase processing resources."

As a frequent overseas traveller, I have no sympathy at all for those waiting for passport processing under the new rules. The problem is not a failure on the part of the State Department. Rather, it is a failure on the part of the traveller to plan appropriately. The Department of Homeland Security did not announce these new rules yesterday. The announcement was made on April 5, 2005, almost two years before the rules went into effect! (New Passport Initiative Announced To Better Secure America's Borders.)

Virtually all tour providers, airline websites, travel websites, and State Department websites have been highlighting the new requirements for over a year. Warnings were in the newspapers and virtually any site related to travel in the summer of 2006 advising people to obtain a passport early if they intended to travel out of the country in 2007. Why is it the State Department's fault that people either chose to ignore the warnings or waited until the last minute to apply?

There is something sorely lacking in our society and it is called "personal responsibility". The State Department did its job. It provided adequate notification almost two years in advance. The travel agencies did their job in providing ample warning. The airlines did their job in highlighting the new rules. Who dropped the ball? Travellers that decided to wait until the last minute to obtain a passport. So is it truly unacceptable that their travel plans are being disrupted? No it's not. Travellers that cannot follow the basic rules for international travel are not victims of the system. The best course of action for these travellers is simple: stay home. Next time, pay attention to the rules and follow them.

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