Thursday, November 20, 2008

US Customs Service threatens liquidation. No action required.

Effective communication department, your government at work division
So I grab the mail, and here’s a notice from Department of the Treasury, U.S. Customs Service, USCBP, Area Director, Newark NJ. Official Business. It’s one of those dealies printed on a carbon paper form by a high-speed impact printer where you tear off the perfed edge to reveal the barely legible secret decoder message inside.

Huh? What do the Customs and Border Patrol people want with me?

Oh, it’s a “COURTESY NOTICE” and “THIS IS NOT A BILL - NO ACTION REQUIRED.” Well, that’s a relief. But, um, why is the “importer number” my Social Security Number? And why is $30.71 “scheduled to liquidate”? And what “goods” entered at New York on January 8? And why is the return address the Department of the Treasury instead of the Department of Homeland Security? Who ARE these people and what do they want with me and is that my thirty bucks they’re going to liquidate? Do I need a lawyer?

Well, a bit of digging on Web reveals that this bit of paperwork is entirely without meaning or importance of any sort, which leads to an obvious question: why send it out at all? What possible good can it do to send out such a notice with no explanation of its weird technical vocabulary to random people who happened to purchase something from overseas at some point in the previous year?

If the law requires that the notice be sent, then a proper notice should be sent, with an explanation of what this liquidation is all about. I have to wonder how much anxiety this has caused among people who didn’t have the wherewithal to research the question online (you cannot contact the agency by phone; the recording just says to call back later, with no option to leave a message; so that option is out). I wondered whether something I had ordered was sitting in a port, scheduled to be destroyed because of an unpaid duty I didn’t know about. I wondered if something I had shipped was sitting in a port, scheduled to be destroyed because I had filled out a Customs form improperly. I wondered all manner of things, and I assume I’m not the first person to do so. How much easier for everyone if some bureaucrat had merely taken a bit of time to add some explanatory verbiage to the form. Maybe when they run out of the current batch and replace the form with one from the Department of Homeland Security, someone will go to the effort. Yeah, right.

Thinking about the audience matters.


Anonymous said...

I am one of those worried people, I have about one or two shipments coming in from abroad every month. I have received several of these notices but ignored it. This time to make sure I wasn't breaking the law or doing something wrong, I decided to do some research on it. This post was definitely helpful.

Beth Leistensnider said...

I found this post when doing my own digging to figure out what the heck this notice is myself. It refers back to a shipment I imported on 9.30.08 and I'm getting it 8.18.09 with a "scheduled date of liquidation" of 8.14.09. How helpful!

Al Cohen said...

Thanks for your post. Simple and efficient way to communicate is much more understandable than lawyer mumbo jumbo.