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Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Your government at work
The major story floating around the blogosphere, and now in the real world, is the Immigration and Naturalization Service's major screwup. Six months (to the day !) after 9/11, they formally notified a Florida flight school that two aliens, who just happened to be a couple of 9/11 hijackers, had been approved for student visas.

The primary focus of the coverage has been how bad the INS' security has to be that nobody noticed the names on the applications -- it's not as if "Mohamed Atta" is obscure anymore. And that's certainly a valid point. But ignore all that, pretend that these were two legitimate applicants, and this is still a debacle.

The INS notified the school of the visa approvals nineteen months after the visa applications were filed. A year and a half. What the hell good does that do? It's useless for the students, right? Well, not exactly. The INS solves the problem of not processing paperwork promptly, by not actually using the paperwork:
The schools are not required to deny instruction to foreign nationals while the visa applicants wait for an INS decision, officials said.
So, in other words, if the visas were denied, it wouldn't matter because the students would already be done. And how does that nineteen months break down? A year to process the paperwork. A year. And then another seven months after the approvals were granted to actually send the paperwork to the school. I can buy a book from Amazon and get it in two days. I can apply for a mortgage and get approved over the phone. But the INS takes a year to figure out which filing cabinet the forms belong in, and then seven months after that to find stamps?

You could defend the INS by blaming the delay on their outside contractor, except that:
A spokeswoman for ACS Inc., the contractor that runs the London, Ky., processing center that mailed the paperwork to Huffman, said that INS rules allow the company to wait six months before sending approved student visa applications to flight schools. "There was no delay," said Lesley Pool. "We perform our services according to their dictates."

INS and Justice officials said last night that the company's latest contract, announced last fall, reduces the deadline to 30 days, officials said.
Ah. So it's no longer six months. It's thirty days. Thirty days? That's supposed to impress us? How about reducing the deadline to a week? Or how about next day service? Remember, we're not talking about deciding whether to approve the application -- we're talking about mailing it.

What a system. Aren't you glad the government has taken the responsibility for airport security away from the evil private sector? Don't you feel reassured?

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