On Friday morning when I took one of my routine trips to the post office, I was surprised to see a long line snaking out the door, moving at a glacial pace. Actually, with global warming, this metaphor no longer applies because glaciers move faster than bureaucratic processes, and eventually disappear. Bureaucracy and the lines at the post office just go on and on.
Surprise turned to shock when I finally managed to get in the door and heard the one employee who works at the 3-position counter apologetically tell a customer that she had to manually type in all of the information from the “short” customs form. I went into deep denial at that point, hoping that I had misheard. Surely all of the information anyone needs is on the form, which is completed in triplicate. There’s the sender’s address, the recipient’s address, detailed information on what is in the package, the country of origin, the value of the goods, whether it’s a gift or merchandise, … well, you get the idea. One copy of the form goes on the package, one goes to the sender, and one goes in a filing box, presumably to be stored in some obscure bureaucratic silo, the contents of which eventually grow into a compacted mass as glaciers used to do in the good old days. Every form has a bar code that presumably can be scanned to track the package’s progress. Is that not record enough?
My denial was in vain, because when I finally got up to the counter, I was told that all of the information from the three forms associated with the sample packs that I was shipping internationally had to be typed into the clunky, cranky old PC-type terminal – apparently not an easy task given that it didn’t “like” half of what she tried to put in. The poor employee was looking frazzled, partly because she was struggling with everyone’s bad handwriting, international addresses and non-English entries, the passive-aggressive people who were tired of waiting in line, and then my sarcastic comments poured on top of that. I did try to be as nice as I could to her, given that the whole fiasco was not her fault.
Of course I asked her why she was suddenly required to type in information from the customs forms, and she seemed surprised by the question. Her response was that when she had come to work that morning there was a message informing her that from now on she was supposed to type in all of the information from every customs form.
“But why?”, I asked. She replied that she did not know. It was just the order she had received.
“From whom?” She did not know.
“Who made this incredibly stupid decision?” She did not know, but thought it must have been someone in the US Customs Office.
“Why would the US Customs Office suddenly want to triple the work of every postal employee when the post office is laying off half of their employees and closing offices? It makes no sense to create unnecessary work at the same time as the labor force is reduced.” She could not answer that question.
“Why do you need to duplicate information that’s already on the forms in triplicate?” She didn’t know, but thought maybe it had something to do with the fact that US Customs is now run by “Homeland Security”.
Ahhhhh … now it all started to make a little bit of sense, albeit illogical sense, and only if one is prone to paranoid conspiracy theories.
“Is there someone I can complain to?” She gave me the card of the person in charge of the main post office.
When I called the number, the person in charge had the same reaction as the employee. She was surprised that I complained, and she did not know why the post office had been asked to manually enter information from every customs form. I asked her who had made the decision, and her answer was that “they” had made the decision and issued the order.
I asked the obvious question, “Who are ‘they’?” She had no clue.
What I did learn from her is that there is a company that, for a price, provides software that allows one to fill out customs forms online and, presumably, transmit that information to the post office’s computer system. Two conspiracies for the price of one! Not only can the US government have digital access to a record of everything that everyone ships everywhere in the world, people can pay a company for the privilege of easily providing these data to whatever faceless big-brother bureaucrats sit in their dreary cubicles compiling piles of useless information. Not only can your tax dollars be used to support this ludicrous waste of human and digital energy, you can pay extra to do it in style.
Now that I think about it, there’s a third component to the whole scheme. With postal employees doing a whole lot of extra, unproductive work, the post office will lose even more money than they currently do, and accelerate their slide into bankruptcy. The whole shebang can then be taken over by something like Central Services in the old film Brazil. And no one will ask, “Why?”
[Glacier photo from Wikimedia; customs form sample from USPS website, Brazil image from Wikipedia]