FAQs About This Effort

 

Why Have We Arrived At A Point Where We’re Resorting To Contacting Congress? 

Passport Services states it will soon require higher security clearances - Secret - than ever required before of Passport Specialists.  The agency is unable to name any change in duties or new access to sensitive databases that would prompt this change.  The agency is unwilling to discuss the wisdom of the change.  The agency is unwilling to disclose the cost of the change. 

Previous investigations (for the current High Public Trust level) have seen numerous instances of employee documents going missing and subjects getting mixed up by the investigators.  Currently, no appeal rights to outside entities exists for those terminated for security clearance issues.  The agency states that employees not granted higher clearances will be terminated, not reassigned to a different position.  The prior rare instances of passports being issued in exchange for monetary bribes have involved those already possessing Secret or Top Secret clearances, thus there is no problem being addressed by security upgrades.

Secret clearances are linked to access to classified material.  Passport Specialists do not deal with classified material and are not expected to in the future.

What Do We Hope To Accomplish With A Letter-writing Campaign? 

We are urging an outside, impartial party to take a look at our job duties and make their own assessment of the situation.  Are security clearance upgrades necessary or a good use of taxpayer dollars?  The Department of State receives its funding for Congress and will listen to what Congressional members have to say. 

What Is The Most Effective Way To Get Congress To Help Us?

Getting small groups of employees (or other concerned citizens) to go visit Congressional offices is the most effective method of getting our message across.  You will need to call or visit the Congressional office beforehand to set up a date and time for the meeting.  It is useful to have the briefing paper or some other document spelling out the Union’s position to leave with them after the initial contact so that they will be able to keep up during the actual meeting.  You will likely be referred to one of the staffers, but do not worry about this – you usually don’t get to interact with the Congressman directly.   

Writing a letter and mailing it in to your elected representatives is the next best form of communicating.  Emailing a message is the third preferred method.  Please keep in mind that ANY kind of contact you make the effort on is very helpful and appreciated. 

Can I Hold a Meeting With Congressional Representatives During My Work Hours?

Union representatives are expressly given the right to contact members of Congress in our bargaining agreement (under Article 7, section 1b) as part of their representational duties.  Normal union members and other employees have the right to visit members of Congress, but not on work time.  Since meetings with Congressional offices are best done in groups of four to eight people (to demonstrate that the problem is one of concern to numerous employees), we suggest that you schedule all Congressional meetings during your lunch time, after work, or on days off.  This does require employees sacrifice some of their own time off, but the meetings need not be long ones.  The presence of the group at the meeting to vouch for the information in the briefing paper is the main thing to be accomplished.  You will want to conclude the meeting by thanking the staffer for his or her time and requesting that they take some action to look into the matter. 

Employees’ right to contact Congress also holds true for contacting the Office of Inspector General. 

Are These Visits Considered A “Political Activity”?

No, as long as you are bringing a problem to the Congressional representative’s attention.  Our concern over the expense and resources consumed on security clearance investigations is certainly a legitimate matter to bring before them.  What would be considered a political activity would be having a meeting for the purpose of getting someone elected to political office.  For that reason, it is a good idea to avoid phrases like “if you do this, we’ll all vote for you” during the meeting. 

Can I Send An Email to My Congressman From Work? 

It is best to send the emails from your home computer.  This may be an overly cautious approach, but it really only takes an extra second to forward the union email from work to your home (or just go to http://www.nffe1998.org when you get home).  Sending the email to Congress is easy and only takes a couple of minutes if you just copy one of the form letters, so it shouldn’t cut into anyone’s free time in any noticeable way. 

Will I Need To Compose My Own Letter From Scratch? 

No.  Although describing the situation in your own words is generally better, using the Union’s form letter emails are also very helpful.  If you would like to use one of the sample letters composed by the Union, just go to (http://nffe1998.org/Security_Clearances.htm), open the letter you prefer, highlight all of that message, copy the text (Ctrl + C), then go back and proceed to the space for entering your zip code (mentioned above) and get to the name of picture of your elected official.   

Once you’re looking at the official’s name and picture, click on the “email” link below the picture.  You then scroll down and select the last option (“Compose Your Own Letter”), and hit “Next Step”.  This opens up the blank email field.  You would then paste the text of the letter (which you’ve already copied) into the blank field for the body of the message.  You now need to fill in a title for the message.  You can use “National Security Concerns At Passport Agency” or make up your own.  You’ll also need to scroll down to enter your name, address, email (substituting for the “return address” portion of a mailed letter).  The last thing to do is to fill in your name again underneath the “Sincerely” salutation.  Hit “Send” and you’re done! 

If you would like to send a letter through the mail, choose the “More Info” instead of “Email” under the representative’s photo.  That will bring up the address to mail it to (choose the local address). 

Are Emails/Letters From Non-Employees Helpful? 

Definitely!  For one thing, some of the Congressmen who are likely to be concerned about the budget and privacy aspects of our dilemma live in districts outside the major urban centers with passport agencies.  The more people we can get to send letters of any kind, the better!  You may just want to forward the link to the Local 1998 page to friends or family, along with a brief message asking them to get involved (remember not to get into the explanation of it on work time).  If you belong to any groups or organizations that you think would be willing to help get our message out, it is worth making the attempt. 

Remember that the success of our plan depends on volume, volume, volume!  We need a raise a major stink and bend some ears!