A Reminder of Why People Hate Bureaucrats


Today I went to the passport office in D.C. to find out what the hell was going on with our daughter Mei's passport application. We adopted Mei in China last summer, and in March we applied for a passport, with an eye toward a trip to Israel in late June. A couple of weeks ago we received a letter, dated April 20, from one C. Pamela Holliday at the D.C. passport office, asking for Mei's certificate of citizenship, which we had sent in along with the application. Ms. Holliday said that if we did not have the certificate of citizenship (which we didn't, since we had sent it to the passport office), we could send a translation of the Chinese adoption decree, another document we had already submitted.

Since receiving Ms. Holliday's letter, I've been calling the State Department's toll-free passport help line every few days, trying to find out how we could satisfy requirements we had already met (and which we could not meet again, since the passport office already had all the originals, which they require instead of copies). Each time I was told to expect a call from the D.C. passport office (the help line personnel are located in New Hampshire) within 48 hours. I'm still waiting. One of the help line people confided that "it sucks" because mere citizens cannot contact the passport office directly; all they can do is pester the people in New Hampshire, who in turn pester the people in D.C. (where the files are located) with e-mails in the vain hope that they will deign to respond.

Yesterday, worried that we'd have to cancel next month's trip, I went to the local post office, which is where we had applied in the first place. I was thinking maybe Mei's certificate of citizenship had been found lying on the floor there. The passport agent at the post office suggested I go to the passport office in D.C., which until that moment I hadn't realized was an option. She also called the passport office and was informed that all they needed was our "second adoption decree," the one issued in the U.S. We don't have one of those.

Today, after a 90-minute wait (I know–it could have been worse), a "supervisor" at the D.C. passport office (not the mysterious C. Pamela Holliday) said that "upon review," it turned out Mei's file was complete and they could issue her passport after all; I could pick it up in a couple of hours. So why did they send the letter? He didn't know. Why did they specifically ask for Mei's certificate of citizenship, leading us to believe they had lost this vitally important document, when they had it all the time? He didn't know. I told him the mistake had caused us a lot of anxiety. No response. Throughout the exchange he did not look me in the eye once, and I don't think it was due to embarrassment. There was no admission of error, no apology. While I was dealing with him he continued talking to his co-workers as if I weren't there. His attitude seemed to be that as a Passport Office Supervisor he did not have to explain himself to anyone, and I was lucky he saw fit to help me out.

The worst part was that I wanted to say something to the effect that an apology would be nice, but the way he told me that he had decided to issue Mei a passport led me to believe he had the discretion to decide otherwise. I was pretty sure he didn't–we had met all the legal requirements, after all–but why take the chance? So instead of asking for an apology, I thanked him and muttered "dickhead" as I left. Even now I'm a little worried that he heard me and that when I stop by the "will call" window Mei's file and passport will have inexplicably disappeared. Thus do passport applications for foreign-born adopted children make cowards of us all. Or maybe just me.