Passport Information Is Free -- For A Price
By JAN GLIDEWELL
© St. Petersburg Times
urveyors of millennial doom have a tendency to wave copies of Revelation under your nose and rave about everything from the advent of Eurodollars to the color of the U.N. flag as evidence of the approach of "one-world government," which they say means the end of the world.
After what happened to me this month, I'd settle for one-country government.
My question was simple enough: What kind of passport do my grandchildren need to enter the United States?
The children were born in the Netherlands to an American father and a Dutch mother. As far as the Netherlands is concerned, they have dual citizenship. The United States, however, does not recognize dual citizenship and sees them only as American citizens.
Dutch children up to age 12 travel by being listed on their parents' passports. U.S. citizens of any age must have their own passports.
The kids were listed on their mother's passport and had traveled internationally within Europe with no problem. But I wanted to be sure they could enter the United States that way.
My travel agent had checked more than a year earlier and was told by the State Department that the children could travel on their mother's passport. When I called the numbers listed in the Tampa telephone book for information, I got a bewildering mass of call-sorting devices and interoffice referrals before I reached a woman who gave me three answers: No, they could not travel on their mother's passport; yes, they could; and no, they couldn't.
My confidence wasn't buoyed when she kept interrupting me to ask questions about information she had already been given, such as, "What day are you leaving for the Netherlands? Oh. They're coming here? They were born in the U.S.? Oh, they were born there?"
Calls to the Dutch Consulate in the United States and the U.S. Consulate in the Netherlands produced the answer that the kids could travel on their mother's passport.
But a call to the U.S. State Department's automated information service produced a different answer: They had to have their own passports.
The catch is that it seems you can get wrong information from the government by calling governmental offices, but if you want correct information, you have to pay for it.
The State Department offers two services, one that you can charge to a major credit card and get your answer for a flat $4.95. The other is a 900 number, which, amusingly, is similar to those you can call for telephone sex and which, for some strange reason, the Times' telephone system is set up to block. If you think about what the government is doing to you while you use the service, the analogy becomes irresistible.
So I drove home to place the 900 call, an extra three-block trip along the information superhighway, and called a number provided by our travel editor where you can talk to a machine for only 35 cents a minute, or a person for $1.05 a minute.
It's still better than paying $400,000 for a night in the Lincoln bedroom, but something about charging citizens for access to information from governmental agencies that can't agree among themselves bothers me.
The final word was that the kids had to get U.S. passports. Meanwhile, forgetting that I was no longer one of his constituents, I had called the office of U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, where a helpful aide went through the same frustrating research and was finally given yet a different answer -- that the children could travel on their mother's passport, if they were registered with the U.S. Consulate.
When their mother went to the consulate to register them, she was told that was not true and that she needed to get passports, which she did, 24 hours before leaving.
If the Apocalypse is at hand, don't dread the Four Horsemen.
They probably won't be able to get into the country.
Originally published August 31, 1997