Musings on a barbarian's interests
It’s been a busy fall, primarily work-driven. In my current role I spend a lot of time analyzing (for investment) B2B service providers, including BPO/ASP/SaaS hosted models for delivering a whole range of business solutions. The short of the generic investment thesis is (a) organizations should do what they’re best at; (b) doing what they’re best at will make them succeed; (c) they should try to outsource everything else. Hence, invest in a sprawling, ever-more-complex patchwork of business service providers, allowing ever-more-narrow focus by all, greater productivity, etc. Comparative Advantage for all!
I bring this up not to point out how moral business services investing is, but rather to contrast a distinct difference between two parallel governmental organizations: the U.S. Department of State, and the Indian Consulate. To attend a good family friend’s wedding in Delhi two weeks hence I, global citizen that I may claim to be, still needed to procure an Indian visa. In testament to what has been a good travel year, I was fresh out of passport pages, and so googled my way through to the US Dept of State’s passport services page, and observed that the addition of new PP pages, even with rush processing, would take 3-4 weeks. I hastily threw my passport into a fedex envelope, along with the necessary forms and return rush postage, and forgot all about it — until this week, when my calendar reminded me that I better have an Indian visa stamp, or risk a very quick return trip (with one way possibly in the cargo compartment). So I called the US Passport Services hotline. 20 minutes of call menu navigation later, I was put on hold, and eventually found a human being — who told me that while my passport had been flagged in their system as received, he couldn’t tell me where it was, let alone where it stood in the processs of having pages added. It may actually already be in the mail. Or maybe it was lost. Or maybe it had been plucked from the mail by an enterprising traveler who could claim to be me. Great. So I call to see if I can get an appointment to have a new passport issued. 30 minutes of effort later I found out that (a) it would take 1.5 weeks to get an appointment to discuss having a new passport issued; (b) there would be another week delay or so to issue the passport. Double great.
In the spirit of parallel processing, I decided to see whether the Indian Consulate would be willing to start work on my visa without passport in hand. What I found out was twofold: (1) the Indian Consulate has very little to do with issuing visas, as they outsource that to “Travisa Outsourcing“; (2) I needn’t really worry about parallel processing, as they’d be able to issue my visa same day — and fedex it back to me if need be.
My takeaway: the USDoS ought to learn from the original kings of outsourcing, and focus on what they’re good at, like statecraft, not page additions…though given recent US foreign policy debacles, this may be a difficult mandate indeed.