Even he's still waiting for his passport

Commentator Robert Reich

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: It seems there are no exceptions to passport complications. Not even for a former high-ranking federal official like commentator Robert Reich.


Robert Reich: I wasn't worried about getting a new passport in time for my Canadian trip, because the passport office's web page assured me that a new one would arrive in six weeks, eight weeks maximum.

Nine weeks later and still without a passport, I phoned the local passport office. I should say, I tried to phone. No one answered.

So I tried the national passport line in Washington and got a recording saying that due to "unprecedented" volume, they could serve me only if I was leaving the country within two weeks.

I qualified, but that hardly seemed to matter. I was patched through to a 24-hour automated line that informed me I couldn't be connected because of the high volume of calls and advised me to call back at night. I phoned back that night, but no one answered.

In the meantime, I learned from a friend about a private company that sped up the process by hand-delivering passport applications to appropriate government offices. But that would cost another hundred bucks on top of my original $97 fee, and mean starting the process all over again.

Trying to control my rising anxiety, I phoned my representative in Congress and finally got through to a sympathetic human being who said they were getting a lot of calls about passports. She'd do what she could.

Apparently, it's been like this ever since a new law went into effect last January requiring passports for Americans returning by air from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

The State Department reportedly hired "dozens" of new workers to process the anticipated flood of applications, which is laughable. They didn't need dozens, they needed thousands.

Late last week, faced with rising tempers, the government announced a temporary suspension of the new passport requirement.

To go to Canada next week, all I need is proof I've applied for a passport. But when I went online to get the proof, there was a notice saying it's taking a week for passport applications to be tracked online.

I don't know whether I'll get to Canada, but I doubt any of this has made it harder for terrorists to enter America. All we've done is make it harder for Americans to leave.

Ryssdal: Being a former secretary of labor for President Clinton didn't help Bob Reich any in trying to get his passport problems straightened out.

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