Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Global Online Enrollment System

The GOES Logo
Let's file this one under "Things That Don't Work The Way They Are Supposed To".

When the security lines in airports were starting to turn into 2- and 3-hour waiting lines, Kevin and I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and sign up for TSA precheck with the U.S. Customs and Borders Protection ("USCBP") by using their Global Online Enrollment System ("GOES").  It seemed easy enough:  pay a non-refundable $100 and complete a fairly easy online application.  The website states that the process will take 4-6 weeks.  Notice the organization's logo.  I think you will eventually agree that it's - at the very least - amusing.

At almost exactly the same time, Kevin and I submitted our online applications on April 21, 2016.  Within 10 days, Kevin had received notification that his application had been accepted and he would need to apply in-person at the nearest center, which happened to be at O'Hare Airport in Chicago.  We waited a few more days for me to receive the same notification, but since Kevin had a small window of time, he scheduled his interview and was accepted into the program.  No more long security lines for him.

We figured that mine would come within a few more days, since we had applied at the same time.  Four weeks passed.  Then five.  Then six.  My account was still showing "Pending Review".   Kevin's parents both thought that signing up through USCBP was a good idea, so after Kevin was accepted, they both applied.  And they both got interviews and they both got accepted.  Meanwhile, my account was still showing "Pending Review".

I tried calling any number I could find online.  There is no contact information on the GOES website.  I found what I thought was a customer service phone number, but when dialed, the phone number would connect, not ring, and then disconnect.  While Kevin's parents were at Dulles Airport for their interviews, they inquired on my behalf for a phone number to call.  USCBP gave them the same number I had been calling to no avail.  But it at least confirmed that I was calling the correct number.

So at six weeks + one day, I sat down and dialed the number only to receive the same disconnect.  This time, I decided to just guerrilla the line and keep calling until something different happened or someone answered.  It took 45 minutes of me robo-dialing but the number finally connected.  A recording came on welcoming to the USCBP and placing my call in queue.  I was caller number 15.  I then proceeded to listen to the more horrible hold music imaginable for the next 90 minutes, with the music being occasionally interrupted to let me know where I was in the queue.  Eventually, a real live breathing person came on the line.

Granted he was friendly enough.  I told him my situation, he looked over my record, and admitted to me that there was nothing flagging my application and it looked to him that I "had been forgotten about."  Lovely.  He said he would send my application over for review as well as flag it for expedited service.  He then instructed me that if I didn't hear anything within the next two weeks, to reach out to him.  He emailed me those instructions as well.


So guess what happens?  Two more weeks passed and my online account still reflected "Pending Review".  So as instructed, I sent a return email informing the USCBP that it had now been over 8 weeks (almost 9) and my account status had not changed and very nicely sought assistance.  Not one to trust just one form of communication, I again sat and robo-called the customer service number I had called before.  This time, it only took about 15 minutes, and I was caller number 8.  So I'm getting better at this.

After about 30 minutes, a representative comes on the line - a different man than before.  Once again, I recounted my story to him and told him what I had done up to this point.  He told me I shouldn't have done that - that being sent an inquiring email.  By doing this, he said, I removed myself from the researcher's queue.  Despite telling him that I had been INSTRUCTED by USCBP to do this very thing, he said I had been instructed poorly.

Picture it:  me, at my desk at work, phone on speaker, trying to stay calm, face red, blood pressure elevating...

Dealing with incompetence has never been my strong suit.  But I remained amazingly calm and asked the representative to understand my frustration.  His response was that I must have just gotten a researcher who is putting me through the grind and checking my background.  I asked what kind of background checks could possibly take 9 weeks to complete?

Let me say to you, dear reader, what I said to the representative:  
There is absolutely nothing in my background that would hint or suggest 
that I am any kind of threat to national and/or international security.  
The last driving citation I received was in 1986 
for driving 70 in a 55 zone.  I argued the ticket because 
my Honda would begin to shake and rattle when I hit 60.  
Ergo, I never drove above 60.  

So for the sake of comparison let's say, I can walk into any gun shop  in 'Murica and be cleared instantly to purchase a gun.  Any gun.  Any gun at all.  But even if I am not cleared instantly and the FBI has to perform the background check, the results take only 72 hours.  That means I can be approved to buy a gun 21 times faster than it takes - so far - to be processed for TSA pre-check.  Here's another comparison:  it took me exactly 10 days to obtain my U.S. Passport, the Federal document that proves I am a U.S. citizen.

The representative said he would resend my application over and, again, flag it for expedited service, which I honestly have no idea what that means.  Our original plan was that both Kevin and I would have clearance and try it out for a wedding we flew to Virginia for over Memorial Day weekend.  At this point, we hope that I will have clearance by the time we fly to Virginia for July 4th Weekend.  But by all means, we REALLY want me to have clearance by the time of our next international flight the end of August.

But it's not looking good.  "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?', indeed.