Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Acts of Futility"

In the words of the wonderful cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, "All truly great ideas started life as acts of futility."  A list of such great ideas would surely contain many that intended to make consular services easier and more efficient for - wait for it - consular customers, NOT consular officers.

It is true that consular sections don't have to be nice to their customers, don't have to provide them with appointments, don't have to give them chairs to sit on, don't have to post inspiring Statue of Liberty posters or endless loops on how to give fingerprints, which their appointment times fade into the distant past and they still grip virgin documents in weary hands.  After all, consular customers are captive; they can't go down the street to the embassy that will treat them better.

Madam has even heard of consular sections dismissing their four- to seven-hour appointment-wait outside anyway-security-passport-fingerprint-interview-decision processes as perfectly acceptable since local officials don't treat their citizens any better.  Sorry, but since when did the behaviors of penny-ante misanthropic sadistic and lazy local officials set the standard for American behavior?

Appointment systems that work only as crowd control are not acceptable.  Appointment systems that are not honored by those who impose them are not acceptable.  Appointment systems that require all applicants to come at a single time, or in two or three large groups, are not acceptable.  Appointment systems that still leave dozens or hundred standing outside the mission's walls waiting to enter while exposed to any mayhem that might happen along, from gunmen to wearers of suicide vests, are not acceptable.

In the 1998 bombings of US embassies Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, 12 Americans died.  More than 300 Kenyans and Tanzanians died and over 5000 were wounded.  The majority of that 5300 were visa applicants, already queued up for hours waiting to submit applications, were the applicants friends or relatives, or were vendors selling drinks and snacks to the applicants and their friends and relatives.  Twelve years later, in some missions, very little has seriously changed to reduce the number of potential civilian deaths.

Public road on one side, blast resistance on the other, 50 people with 7:30 appointments in between.  Who would survive?

How can Madam put this politely?  In every US consular section, some responsible consular officer needs to pull his head out of his - pocket - walk outside, and count the number of innocent (214b is NOT a capital crime) civilians who would be killed or wounded in a suicide attack.

Then understand that you were hired because you are smart and responsible.  Prove it.  Generate and act on that truly great idea.  Fix this.  Today.


dvejr said...

One NIV section behavior I always disliked was making rats to choke the snake. One section I visited took applications only 16 hours a week - 7-11 4 days a week. If you wanted to apply for an NIV at any other time, screw you. The fifth day the unit was closed to business "for a training day". (Translation - FSNs leaning on shovels day). In all fairness, the fifth day was also used to "clear the backlog". Having compressed a week's work into 40% of the time available, there was of course always a bulge somewhere in their processing pipeline. That they had created the bulge seemed too hard a concept for their managers to grasp.

Doug's Efficiency Rule #1 - It is unlikely a good idea to post any sign that limits any consular service to any specific sub-set of the total hours staff are present to work.

Anonymous said...

You're not in CA, are you? What I'd like to know is why you're not working there? And why some mediocre folks are on the fast track instead; they nod their heads up and down all the time, and they seem smart as long as you don't work for them. You should try sucking up sometime, it has taken many others the long way!

Madam le Consul said...

Listen to your Uncle Doug, everybody. His Efficiency Rule #1 is right on.

Dear Anonymous, Thanks and bless you, my dear.