First, full disclosure:  I am a government employee and proud of it.  I love working for the U.S. State Department, and I love knowing that what I do has an impact. 

After seven years overseas, I’m back in Washington DC.  Since I live in Arlington, VA and work at Main State in DC, I ride the infamous Metro to work every day.  The system isn’t perfect, but it works for me.  One of the perks I receive is transit benefits.  I filled out one form, which includes my SmartTrip card number and the cost of my roundtrip commute.  Once my application is approved, I will receive a monthly reminder to download the funds to my fare card at one of the kiosks in the metro station.  Excellent.  As long as that fare card is not lost or stolen, I’m golden.

Or not. 

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"...or a photo of me after talking to Metro?

Back in December, I lost my SmartTrip card.  Totally my fault.  I remember using the card one night to get from my gym in Clarendon to my car in Ballston.  I brought the card home.  Then I lost it.  Although I am convinced that the card is somewhere in my condo waiting to be discovered, I realized that I had to move on, cancel it, and get a new card.  Done, done, and done.

Okay, but what about my transit benefits?  I took care of that too.  I updated my application form, sent it in, and received notification of its approval.  I was told that my benefits would resume in February.  Okay, that’s the price I must pay for being careless.  I understand. 

It’s February 2.  Would you like to place a bet on whether I’ve received my benefits? 

This morning I called Smart Benefits, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s office that manages the program, for assistance.   A truly enlightening experience.

  1. Smart Benefits has no record of me in their system.  How is that possible?  I’ve been receiving benefits since October!  Finally, after repeatedly insisting that they should have my records, my records are discovered.  I officially exist.
  2. Clarification:  they have a record of my old card, but not my new one.  How is that possible?  Did you register the new card, ma’am?  When I called to cancel the old one, the customer service agent told me she would automatically register the new one.  And that, my friends, was my fatal error.  I believed her.
  3. Oh, we see your January and February benefits assigned to your old card, just waiting to be downloaded by you.  How. Is. That. Possible?  I cancelled the card in December.  I notified my employer of the cancellation in December.  Why would they (my employer) continue to send benefits to that card and why would they (Smart Benefits) continue to accept them?  Foolish girl, you’re asking logical questions in an illogical world.
  4. Okay.  Fine.  Whatever.  How do I fix this?  I am told that I need to register my new card and inform my employer that I have a new card.  Am I speaking in a vacuum?  Have you heard anything I’ve said?  I was told the new card was registered.  I did inform my employer back in December.  I have proof that they received and approved my notification!  Silly girl, you have to do it again.  Maybe we’ll get it right this time. 
  5. Why don’t you call the Department of Transportation, which administers the program for State, and ask them to transfer your benefits to your new card?  I’ll even give you the telephone number.  Thanks, I guess.  I call and speak to a lovely woman, who is forced to hear this long, painful saga.  She is patient.  She is kind.  She tells me that she cannot help me because my employer insists that all requests for changes be sent to them.  I believe there is a form you must fill out, she says.  Did I go to sleep in the real world and wake up in a Kafka novel?  What have I been saying?  The form was filled out.  Submitted.  Read.  Reviewed.  Approved.  No matter, you must do it again. 

And so, like the demoralized, thoroughly indoctrinated drone that I am I contain my rage, suppress my tears, and fill out the form.  Again.  Praise be!  They have responded already!  I open the email.  It’s an auto-reply message, telling me my message has been received and will be responded to within 5-7 days.

What can I do, but wait?  Wait for them – the infamous “them” – to decide that my existence is real, that my inquiry is worthy of review and investigation, and that I am deserving of a real response. 

Does anyone else feel my pain? 

Tell me I’m not alone! 

Tell me about your crazy “Brazil”-like (look it up) experience with bureaucracy – government or otherwise.