Two days ago, the State Department published in the Federal Register a request for comments on a new filing it will make with the Office of Budget & Management as required under the Paperwork Reduction Act, estimating the number of people who file Form DS-4079, the Request for Determination of Possible Loss of United States Citizenship.
This post analyses the history of the State Department’s OMB filings regarding DS-4079. For an overview of the hilarious process of cooking up respondent burden estimates under the Paperwork Reduction Act, you may wish to read this post from last year on the IRS’ OMB filings regarding Form 8854. In short: don’t waste your time writing up comments for them to read, because your participation only lends a veneer of legitimacy to their fake attempt to pretend they’re listening and being reasonable. And don’t bother trying to ascribe any significance to the numbers. Just read on and make up your mind whether to laugh or cry.
The 2007 initial request
In August 2007, when the State Department first requested an OMB Control Number for Form DS-4079, it estimated that 2,298 people would file the form annually — this against a background of 368 names in the Federal Register name-and-shame list in the preceding four quarters. (Of course, there’s evidence that the IRS had begun randomly dropping names from that list the previous year, meaning the number of people dumping the blue passport might have been far higher than admitted — but perhaps State didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to be following the IRS and downplaying their estimates too.)
In the Supplementary Statement to the filing, the State Department revealed the cost burden to the federal government to process each DS-4079 (distinct from the burden of the respondent who actually fills out the form, which they estimated at 15 minutes):
The Federal government will incur an annualized estimated cost of $151,805.88. Reviewer burden hours, estimated average hourly rate per reviewer and the number of reviewers were determined to calculate the annualized estimated cost. The process to reach the annualized estimated cost to the Federal government began with the calculation of the estimated average hourly rate multiplied by the total reviewer burden hours ($33.03 x 2 hours = $66.06). The preceding total was then multiplied by the total number of respondents to the questionnaire ($66.06 x 2,298 respondents = $151,805.88).
It seems rather difficult to reconcile this two hour, sixty-six dollar burden with the more recent claims the State Department made in this June 2010 Federal Register notice that Shadow Raider posted yesterday:
The CoSS demonstrated that documenting a U.S. citizen’s renunciation of citizenship is extremely costly, requiring American consular officers overseas to spend substantial amounts of time to accept, process, and adjudicate cases. A new fee of $450 will be established to help defray a portion of the total cost to the U.S. Government of documenting the renunciation of citizenship. While the Department decided to set the fee at $450, this fee represents less than 25 percent of the cost to the U.S. Government. The Department has determined that it must recoup at least a portion of its costs of providing this very costly service but set the fee lower than the cost of service in order to lessen the impact on those who need this service and not discourage the utilization of the service, a development the Department feels would be detrimental to national interests. See 31 U.S.C. 9701(b)(2).
The 2010 extension
Oddly enough, in October 2010 when the State Department filed for an extension with the OMB, they cut their estimate of DS-4079 filers in half to just 1,132, even as the number of ex-citizens to which the IRS was willing to admit in the preceding twelve months had nearly quadrupled to 1,397. At the time, State claimed that “Decrease in burden is do [sic] to improvement in Bureau estimations over the prior 3 years”; they again claimed that it would take them only two hours to review each form, at a slightly increased cost of $33.74 per hour. The 2010 Supplementary Statement is even more fascinating:
The Department is in the process of incorporating an electronic element for the DS 4079 form. The respondent will input all the necessary data into the form online. The respondent will be able to submit the data on the form by clicking the “submit” button located on the form. Once the respondent clicks the “submit” button, the data on the form will populate a case file in the American Citizen Services Database (ACS) for easy access by the Consular Officer(s) at the U.S. Post handling the case. If the respondent is completing the form online, the respondent will be required to print the form and provide his or her signature(s) to the form manually. The form is not valid until the respondent and Consular Officer handling the case provides their hand-written signature(s) in the appropriate sections on the form.
Though this sounds roughly as clunky as the now-mandatory system for online filing of FBARs, it would certainly be a welcome improvement to waiting weeks and weeks to get an in-person appointment at the consulate where you can’t bring your mobile phone. So where exactly is this alleged system for online submission of Form DS-4079 about which they were bragging three years ago? Certainly not in the version of the form currently posted on the website …
There were also two public comments on the OMB filing. One of them discussed the rather unusual theory that Taiwan is actually a trust territory of the United States and that DS-4079 should include instructions to “American Formosan Indians” on how to claim U.S. citizenship. On the other hand, it’s probably a complete waste of time to try to sound more sane than this; State will just find a way to ignore your comment anyway. This is what happened to a second comment by Ronald Zisman of Preshaw & Zisman Immigration Lawyers of British Columbia and Washington State, which made much more cogent observations and reasonable suggestions:
A U.S. citizen who wishes to Renunce or Relinquish should not have to wait 2 to 6 months to do so. The time frame for some consulates are in a walk-in mode but others require mailing in the forms; receiving correspondence from the consulate; waiting for an email from the consulate requesting that the applicant make an appointment; appointment date; and then waiting over 1 year for the CLN. Different consulates within the same country have different procedures. This should be standardized.
In the meantime the applicant does not have proof of his renunciation; his U.S. passport has been stamped as void; but does not receive at administrative decision for one year. This is not acceptable.
The Consulate should provide a date stamped copy of the application to the applicant to avoid issues at port of entry or as to provide proof for other matters.
The prickly bureaucrats at State were just as dismissive of Mr. Zisman, writing in their supplementary statement only that “[t]he second comment was from a person complaining about the renunciation process … [t]he changes he recommended would make the process much more difficult instead of easier”. This statement is clearly mendacious: issuing a proof of renunciation on the spot would simply be a matter of printing out a form letter with the name and birthdate already collected, and then stamping it. Doing so is not only theoretically practical, it has actually been done previously in cases like those of Ukrainian first lady Kateryna Yushchenko and Pakistani politician Fauzia Kasuri.
The 2013 extension
And now, with the FBI claiming to have received 5,444 CLNs of renunciants from the State Department from July 2012 to July 2013 (3,488 in the second half of last year and 1,956 so far this year, not even counting the number of CLNs of relinquishers), State has admitted that their previous estimate may have been a tad too low, so they’re raising it … to 1,729. But their cooked numbers aren’t the most interesting part of the notice. First, there’s the continuing promise that relinquishers (though perhaps not renunciants) could file the form online or by mail:
Methodology: The Bureau of Consular Affairs will post this form on Department of State Web sites to give respondents the opportunity to complete the form online, or print the form and fill it out manually and submit the form in person or by fax or mail.
And then, they offer this amusing aphorism about the nature of Form DS-4079:
Frequency: On Occasion
Obligation to Respond: Required to obtain or retain benefits
Relinquishment of United States citizenship: do it on occasion if you would like to obtain or retain benefits.