If I’d posted to Twitter, it might have angrily read, “no wonder people think PO should close: long wait, rude service, and incorrect information. going by attitude, even their employees hate it.” (I have a thing about trying to hit exactly 140 characters.) If I’d waited until I got home to post about it on Facebook, it might have more coolly noted, “Apparently I can’t renew my passport in person. Even though the website provides information on making in-person appointments that leads me to my local post office, and the clerk there snappily directs me back to what’s posted on the website, it looks like sending in a DS-82 is the only answer. I’m so glad, then, that they provided me with a form from 2008 that expired in 2010.” If I were being paid, I’d probably interview a broader sampling of customers, employees, and managers, and I’d attempt to figure out why so many inaccurate forms and out-of-date information litters the physical post offices and government website. Instead, I’ve decided to convey a personal anecdote — much as I apparently did in this lone archived copy of an op-ed I wrote for my college paper in regards to applying for a state-issued ID. (Not much has changed, save for a surer hand.)
Basically, I wanted to renew my passport, and because I am the person who prefers to do sensitive things like handing over my recently expired passport book in person, I was a little surprised to find that there was no option to do so. Unless, that is, I were a more irresponsible (and wealthier) person, and wanted to wait until the point at which I’d require expedited services, at which point the local passport center would open its munificent petals to me. Likewise, if I were getting my very first passport, I’d apparently have to do that in person — even though both of the local post offices that I attempted to do this at told me that they no longer offered such services. They redirected me to the State Government’s site, which redirected me to the automated help line (1-877-487-2778), which redirected me to the post office, which as I mentioned before had redirected me to the website. The call center agent I spoke to told me, when I asked, that his supervisor would tell me the same thing; I could have continued to ask him who I could call that would have the answers, but there’s a point at which I would not only have been harassing him but trolling myself, so I backed off. Still, I was surprised to have him argue with me over my use of the word “arbitrary” in describing this policy: if neither you, your boss, nor any printed correspondence can clarify the reason for choosing to process passport applications by mail as opposed to in person, then it’s surely an arbitrary decision. When you work in a public (or publicly funded) job and you cannot answer to the public, then you’re either attempting to cover up classified information without saying so–and I don’t think the Post Office is involved in drone strikes just yet–or there’s simply no reason. That is an answer in of itself, and should come as no surprise to anyone even remotely involved with the so-called bureaucratic process.
But you know, this run-around ignorance isn’t what irritates me the most, and what had me rushing to excoriate them via Twitter (or perhaps I should have used Vine to show a lemon erupting from my mouth) was the fact that they were also pretty damn rude about the whole thing, as if I were the most irrational man in the world for wanting to exercise (1) the same privilege that two other sets of the population were allowed to exercise and (2) desiring a rational explanation for why such a request wouldn’t be allowed. Had they simply said they did not know, it would have been fine, but the various clerks I met with in person (or spoke to over the phone) gave me contradictory answers–sometimes in the breadth of the same conversation–and in the most outrageous experience in this process, outdated forms. I admire the fact that the post office is able to provide a to some extent outdated service for such a relatively low cost, but I think it’s shameless that their antiquated attitudes spill over into their in-person presentation and online presence. I can’t have been the first person to ask these questions; I can’t have been the first person to ask a teller if they knew where I might be able to get photos taken (especially since their own website had noted this was an in-house service they provided).
Besides, you would think, given the supposed security that a passport offers, that the government would demand you renew in person, to prevent forgeries. After all, there’s nothing (beside the law) to have stopped me from selling my old passport book to a stranger, allowing them to mail it back with their own address, a new “updated” photo, and no tangible proof of their identity beyond the very thing which they were now applying for. I considered, too, that perhaps the Department of State was trying to bolster the Post Office by forcing people to use it for the renewal of certain documents, but wouldn’t the Post Office earn its keep just as much by taking the physical appointments the website claims they still offer, taking simple and overpriced photographs themselves (rather than passing the profits on to the nearest CVS), and charging an in-house processing fee? Moreover, why are the fees for a passport renewal still so high ($110) if there’s no longer a physical location to handle the renewal, if there’s no longer any real authentication of identity? An automated center is rubber-stamping what should be our most secure documents at our expense, and any attempts from the average consumer to get answers are redirected like the Ouroboros. Makes it all the clearer that these “renewals” are arbitrary as well: opportunities to print money off a population that has no choice but to pay this unspoken tax. For instance, while it makes sense to charge for the renewal of one’s driver’s license, which is dependent on your ability to safely continue to operate a motor vehicle, it seems odd that it should cost more to renew than to get the original. (Incidentally, try finding these prices cited anywhere on the main page of the DMV.)
When you consider that these are fairly basic questions that should have fairly basic answers, is it any wonder that nobody is rushing to defend the ailing post office or its absent father-figure and poor role model, the government?