THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 117, April 16, 2001
"Declare The Pennies On Your Eyes"
Jeffrey in Fedland
by Jeff Schwartz
Special to TLE
The company I work for sent me down the rabbit hole Friday. I've been picked to go overseas on a business trip, which means I needed a passport - and quickly. Which meant visiting the Federal Building in Miami to walk through the passport process.
The Claude Pepper Building is easy to identify. It's the only one with no ground floor windows, just an even fašade of black stone. Metal barriers are placed around most of the building preventing any direct contact with the walls.
I mention these features since they are unique in the architecture of downtown Miami. Most buildings have windows allowing those inside to enjoy the view of the palm trees and tourists. None have a fence.
Outside the front entrance of the Federal Building are two prominent signs, painted red and white with bold black letters. My first thought was that these were an outside directory, telling people that this was the place to come if you were having passport problems, or needed help.... What a wonderful and helpful idea!
Well, they were in both English and Spanish, but the signs explained in detail the horrible consequences of bringing a weapon or camera into the building. Five years in prison and fines if you were to exercise your First or Second Amendment rights.
Stepping through the door, I ran straight into an airport style security station. But instead of the usual bored rent-a-cop, I found 4 alert and energetic armed guards. I was told to empty my pockets, and they began a search of everything I was bringing with me. I thought to myself, "Fourth Amendment, huh?"
We passed security, and went for an elevator ride. Arriving at our floor, I glanced at my watch, and it was a half hour before my appointment. I had been told not to show up any earlier than 15 minutes before, or I would be asked to leave the building. So I had 15 minutes to kill ...
Looking for the bathroom, I found a young lady packing up a sleeping bag in an unused section of hallway. During our brief conversation, she mentioned that she had been seeking a passport for three days, and had neither luck nor a place to live. She had family outside the US that she wanted to go live with, but she was currently homeless with only a plane ticket to her name. She had been sleeping on the floor until the guards caught her and she was told to leave the building. I did see her again, later that afternoon, with a passport in her hand and a grin on her face.... and I felt bad to see someone that happy about leaving the United States.
Ten minutes used up, I decided to check and make sure I was in the right place. I didn't want to be too early, and ejected from the building, or be more than 15 minutes too late , as I'd also been told that would automatically cancel the appointment. Entering the Passport Office, I checked with one of the two armed guards. He looked at his watch, told me I was 20 minutes before my appointment, but he'd let it slide since I was just asking if I was in the right place. "Get in line for Window Number One, they'll take care of you" were his parting words.
Window Number One had a line, of course, but it moved quickly. I have to admit, that for all the things I disliked about this adventure, the people behind the nine armor-glass windows were efficient and friendly. They were even polite and offered helpful information.
For the most part, the two armed guards in the room - carrying S&W revolvers, the most politically correct sidearm in the nation - were equally polite and helpful ... with one exception, which I get to later.
My appointment was for noon - and by 12:10 I had completed the passport application process. I had let them put $45 for a passport, $15 for a filing fee, and $35 for 'Expedite Charges' on the company card, and in return was then told that I could pick up my passport at 2:30, and don't be later than 3:00 because they stop letting people get in line at 3:00.
I left, planning on doing some tourist activities. On the way out, I saw an armed guard from Brinks carrying a heavy money bag out of the building. A curious thought crossed my mind. I have a Florida Concealed Weapons Permit, which means I've had the same background check that guard had. Heck, I once worked a military contract that required Top Secret clearance, so I've likely had more background checks that that guard had. But he was armed and I wasn't. The implied policy here was that my life wasn't worth defending with force, but the Federal Money in the bag he was carrying was. The kicker was that over my lifetime, it is pretty much guaranteed that I'll pay more taxes than the contents of that bag, so from a strictly mercenary standpoint, the Feds were guarding the nickels and dimes while flashing the tens and twenties.
After two hours of fun and sun, I returned to Fed Land. Again, the search. Again the check by the guards of the slip of paper that said I was allowed in the room. Again, a long, long line, this time for "Window 9 - pick ups".
One gent at the back of the line complained, yelling that they should open more than one window because there were about 100 people in line. He was loud mouthed, but he only got two sentences out before the younger of the guards said, "Sir, I'll have to ask you to stop talking or leave the building." I noticed that the guard's hand was on the butt of his revolver as he said it ...
My thought at the time was, "There goes the First, maybe the Fifth. Ninth? Dunno ..."
The folks behind the windows were quick and efficient and I had a passport in hand less than 10 minutes later.
But the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth.
Some naive part of me was convinced that if there was anywhere in the United States where the Federal Contract would be carried out to the letter, it would be a Federal Building.
I'm a contract programmer - I write code to spec and on time. In return, the client stands by the particulars of the contract, or either I walk or we start re-negotiating. Throughout this adventure, I had the feeling of dealing with a client that had decided to ignore 4 out of 10 contract provisions.
So how do I go about entering re-negotiation on the contract?
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