What’s your problem? Lost in a government maze, and I’d like a refund, please

By | October 31st, 2011

Question: I recently applied online for Global Entry, a government program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers when they arrive in the United States.

Its website was confusing and I ended up applying for a program called Nexus. That’s when my problem started, and I felt like I had fallen into the government black hole, never to return.

I called the office that handles Global Entry applications here and was told that this was a “common problem.”

When I asked why they couldn’t fix the problem, I was told they wrote a letter about it, but nothing had been done. I was also told I had to contact Border Patrol to cancel my erroneous Nexus application, since they didn’t do that either.

When I contacted the Border Patrol, I was informed that they would cancel my application, but not refund my $50 which I had to pay when I made application. A representative told me it was “my problem.”

I am writing to request your assistance in trying to get these unsolvable problems solved, and have my $50 refunded back to me. — Mary Ann Hoey, Chicago

Answer: Global Entry and Nexus are both designed to get you into the country faster, cutting the long line at the airport or border crossing. But there’s a difference between both these initiatives. Nexus is joint Canada-United States program. Global Entry is managed by the U.S. government.

Maybe that’s the problem. With so many layers of bureaucracy, it’s possible that applicants were getting lost when they signed up for one of these programs online.

Your application was handled through a government site called the Global Online Enrollment Center (GOES). I paid it a little visit and followed the application process as far as I could.

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It is not a pretty site. It is not all that intuitive, either. I’m not surprised you got lost.

According to the government, you could have scheduled an appointment with an enrollment center to discuss your problem. And failing that, you could have contacted the Customs and Border Protection ombudsman for help.

Telling you this was your problem was not good customer service, obviously. But playing phone tag with the government is a non-stop ticket to frustation-ville. A paper trail with your request and the government’s response can easily be appealed to the CBP ombudsman — or to yours truly.

Also — and I’m sure you know this by now — pay attention when you’re doing anything on a government website. Make sure you’re paying for the right program, and if you aren’t, then for goodness sakes, don’t surrender your credit card information or push the “pay” button.

I contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency responsible for your failed application. A representative got in touch with me and said that while GOES has successfully processed more than one million applications, it has been “made aware” of some difficulties.

“We regret any inconvenience encountered by applicants, and are working to improve system functionality,” the representative said.

The government has refunded your $50.

(Photo: MP R529/Flickr)

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