As we noted earlier this month, the State Department told United Airlines that they planned to hold “a public meeting sometime in April or May of 2010” to explain the cost basis of their proposal to increase fees for passports, visas, and other international travel permissions and credentials.
We contacted the State Department as soon as we read this in United’s comments, to try to find out when and where the meeting would be. At first, a State Department spokesperson said they had “no knowledge of any meeting being organized”. After we pointed out the statement in United’s comments, they backpedaled, and told us they were “working out the details on whether there will be a public meeting”. Then this week they admitted that there had been a plan for a public meeting, but there no longer is. Instead, they now say the State Deaprtment will publish a new notice in the Federal Register next week (probably in this docket folder), with more background on the “Cost of Service Study”, and re-open public comments for an additional 15 days.
We take it as a sign that the State Department has gotten the message: So many people oppose this scheme to charge us more for an improper prerequisite to the exercise of our right to travel that the agency responsible for the proposal realizes that any public hearing would provide a forum for the opposition.
The good news is that if you missed the original comment period, you’ll get a second chance. Comments are currently closed, but get them ready to send as soon as the window re-opens next week. You can use our comments (also available in OpenOffice .odt and MS-Office .doc formats) as a model if you need ideas for what to say.
[Update: An uninformative supplemental notice (PDF) was published in the Federal Register on March 24, 2010, with a new docket number (DOS-2010-0037) so that people searching the original docket wouldn’t know that comments have been re-opened. You can submit comments by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “RIN 1400-AC57 and 1400-AC58” in the subject line until 5 p.m. Washington time on Thursday, April 8, 2010. The supplemental notice claims that comments can be submitted through the Regulations.gov Web site, but because the notice wasn’t linked to the original docket and was mis-categorized as “non-rulemaking”, that isn’t currently possible. In the most important of the follow-up comments, which wasn’t posted to the online docket until a month after it was filed, United Airlines and the U.S. Travel Association jointly argue that the State Department still hasn’t provided sufficient information to allow the public to judge whether the fee increases are justified.]