New Passport Application -- I Honestly Thought This Was A Joke

It should be a regular feature here -- government programs so silly they sound like a spoof.  Seriously, I thought this was some spoof birther proposal.  Via Radley Balko, from Consumer Traveller

The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new  Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of birth; and a variety of other information.  According to the proposed form, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”

The State Department estimated that the average respondent would be able to compile all this information in just 45 minutes, which is obviously absurd given the amount of research that is likely to be required to even attempt to complete the form.

It seems likely that only some, not all, applicants will be required to fill out the new questionnaire, but no criteria have been made public for determining who will be subjected to these additional new written interrogatories.  So if the passport examiner wants to deny your application, all they will have to do is give you the impossible new form to complete.

In fact, this text misses some of the real doozies.  Here is a jpg of the 2nd page of the application (click to enlarge)

Dates and locations of your mother's pre-natal doctor visits?  My mom would laugh her ass off if I called her asking for these.  And how can  the government get away with asking for details of religious ceremonies connected to one's birth?

I swear the combination of the religious ceremony stuff and the residence of one's mother before, during, and after birth is so parallel to birther arguments about Obama I thought this was a spoof.

Update: Apparently this form is for people who have lost their birth certificate.  If a person cannot track down his or her birth certificate and can't find his or her birth hospital to get a replacement, I find it hard to believe any of this stuff is answerable either.  To me, this factoid makes the whole Obama/birther irony even funnier.


  1. Don:

    My mom's dead, my grandparents are all dead, AND I'm adopted. So how the hell would I get that information?

    This is insanely stupid.

  2. Evil Red Scandi:

    This is for just in case their proposed scheme to deny passports to people who are behind on their tax payments gets shot down in court. "Sure, you can have your passport... just fill out one of these..."

  3. dullgeek:

    As mentioned, not everyone's mother is alive. If they put this in place, the number of people complaining would choke a stampeding herd of buffalo. No way it stays. No. Way.

  4. dullgeek:

    That said, better to not even get it put in place. The above links show ways that you can comment on this proposal:

    Perhaps comments should be submitted.

  5. Bill:

    Show me your papers, Citizen.

  6. Brian:

    They don't even ask for that much information when you apply for a Top Secret security clearance.

  7. L Nettles:

    I will note that if you were born in a hospital and were issued a birth certificate within on year Questions 5-12 would not apply.

  8. john:

    I didn't read all of the questions, but most of the ones mentioned in your post sound very familiar (not the religious stuff). Have you applied for a job lately? Or to a graduate program? (especially law) These impossible questions are dead standard now. I can't imagine how anyone could honestly answer them and many of the forms are either web validated or constrained by bold print verbiage that you will be anywhere between denied and arrested if the information is not 100% complete and accurate.

    Apparently this sort of thing is the "new normal". I can't quite understand it, but here are some possibilities I've though of:

    •A kind of BS tolerance test
    •A "if you want in here bad enough and you're our kind of people you'll know just how much to lie" standard.
    •It is a way around various discrimination laws. ("No, it wasn't because he's stupid or can't speak English it's because he lied or gave us incomplete information on his application.")
    •It is a way of increasing the cost of application (all the research makes it very time consuming and difficult) in order to decrease the number of applicants.

    I wonder if anyone is warning young people that they need to keep a detailed diary of everywhere they live and work, every client or customer when freelancing or working part time, every supervisor when employed, all of their phone numbers, addresses and emails, etc. For those of us who didn't, we're just out of luck. (Not that I'd be willing to disclose all of that stuff anyway. My answer is, "you are damned impertinent sir.")

  9. Everyman:

    Let's make a deal. Although my parents are long dead, I'll fill out the form in as much detail as I can if the president will agree to do so as well.


  10. Noah:

    We just did out 50th high school reunion and one of the questions was "How many times have you moved since graduating from high school?" The winner was over 30 times and there were more than a few in the 20s. One of the stay-at-homes remodels and flips houses and wasn't sure how many times so he left the answer blank.

  11. Noah:

    My first employer after college is still in business with an entirely different name. Which name do I use? Same question with employer addresses and telephone numbers.

    With all the creative construction and destruction in the US employment market, section E is GIGO.

    When the Internet bubble burst and firms disappeared overnight, one of the problems was nobody was left to issue W-2s.

  12. Barak A. Pearlmutter:

    My impression is that this form is for a person trying to get a passport *even though* they don't have a birth certificate or other proof of US citizenship. I don't think applicants are really expected to answer all the questions, just as many as you can. The more answered, the easier it is for them to verify that that someone was Born in the USA. It is actually trying to be helpful in giving ways a person might not have thought of to verify their status. In this light, the odder questions are really suggestions.

    As in: well, you might be able to prove your mother was living in Moosekiss Idaho when you were born during a blizzard in her deep forest adobe if she saw a doctor while pregnant and he saw you after you were born, because we could check his records, and then we could establish it was really you by crossing them with the files at the one-room schoolhouse you went to, if you also gave us its name and address, since those files there might list him as your family doctor, and we can see it was your picture in the yearbook.

    In other words: this isn't some terrible invasion of the privacy snatchers, instead it is the government actually trying to be helpful to people in particularly exasperating circumstances.

  13. sch:

    It appears the 60 day time limit on critiques to the proposed form expires today 4/25/11
    Be interesting to see where the hispanics are going to come down on this in 5-15 yrs as
    the bumper crop of illegals birthing in the US grows up. Prenatal visits? one to dx
    pregnancy, second to deliver baby. Address: unknown apt room with 4 other families...

  14. Ted Rado:

    This piece made a liar out of me. I have said that the US Government could not get any more incompetent. I was wrong.

  15. BJN:

    As Brian pointed out, they don't even ask (quite) that many questions when applying for a government security clearance; but anyone who's ever filled out a e-QIP can tell you that the estimated 4 hours they suggest it will take to dig up your entire moving and work history is not near enough time. 45 minutes? Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

  16. caseyboy:

    Not to worry, you won't need a passport when the one world government solution is in place. We'll all be welcome citizens of the world traveling freely from place to place. Everything paid for by our benevolent government. No problems, no worries, golly gee won't that be swell.

  17. Don Lloyd:

    Might this have something to do with the AM radio ad I heard this morning recruiting for CIA domestic clandestine (sp?) operations or some such?


  18. smurfy:

    "I wonder if anyone is warning young people that they need to keep a detailed diary of everywhere they live and work"
    Not to worry, TransUnion does an amazing job of that nowadays. I'd forgotten about some of the couches I lived on during college until I pulled my credit report.

  19. Zach:

    "What type of document did your mother use to enter into the United States before your birth?" grandma's uterine contractions count as a document?

  20. Rogoff:

    Easier to get elected US President than to get a passport! Hilarious!

  21. Doug:

    And let us not forget that this is the same group of bozos that is indignantly demanding that Apple come testify about invading the privacy of its customers...

  22. ErisGuy:

    Exactly who in the government thought this was a good idea?

  23. astonerii:

    Its pretty close to how much they want for a top secret clearance investigation to start. To give an idea, it took me three weeks at about 2 hours a day 5 days a week to gather most of the information, and I had to submit it mostly complete. Sounds like fun.

  24. James Bradley:

    Hillary, the snoop.

  25. mahtso:

    “If a person cannot track down his or her birth certificate and can’t find his or her birth hospital to get a replacement, I find it hard to believe any of this stuff is answerable either.”

    I don’t know about other states, but in Arizona hospitals don’t issue birth certificates, the state does. I don’t think it is hard to get a duplicate copy from the state. Consequently, if, as the update and some comments show, this form is only for those who have no birth certificate, I don’t see it as a big deal.

  26. NL:

    What's ridiculous is the idea that anybody at State is ever going to check on this. You're telling me the agency whose fast-track passport process drops waiting time from months to weeks is going to have the manpower to find a retired doctor and ask him about a patient he saw thirty years ago, three practice groups ago? Cops have trouble working cold murder cases half as old with twice as much information.

    If anybody at State can actually vet half this information then we need to reassign them to finding Osama.

  27. marco73:

    When I was born in the 50's, the hospital issued a birth certificate with some autographs and my tiny foot prints. That hospital certificate was good enough for over 50 years for me to enter school, college, the military, serve overseas, get married, buy a house, etc.
    I allowed my old passport to lapse years ago, and went into the post office in 2007 to renew it. Somehow the rules had changed, and the hospital birth certificate was no longer any good. I had to get a certificate of live birth from my birth state up North. I had to pay a contract company $75 to fedex a copy of some ancient microfiche from the bowels of the state capitol.
    I believe that if this form or something as sinister becomes law, a cottage industry of former bureaucrats will spring up, and for a fee, they will walk whatever crappy paperwork you have right through the process.

  28. Eric Hammer:

    I think Marco has the right of it. No one is actually going to be given or denied a passport based on how they fill out this form. All it does is suggest that those needing to fill it out have to go to some third part contractors to get all the information or call the right people to make sure that info. won't be needed. It also allows them to deny and rescind passports for nearly any reason and cite the form. My guess is that the last thing they want is for you to fill out the whole thing.

  29. markm:

    If you follow Radley's link to the whole form, you'll see that page 2 is only for those who cannot provide either a birth certificate or hospital records. That's rare, but it can happen. E.g., my stepdaughter got through 30-some years, including a tour in the Navy, on the birth certificates issued originally by the county clerk in Traverse City. Then she could not find them when getting a driver's license in another state required a birth certificate as well as her
    Michigan license - and the state records agency in Lansing could not find her record. Either the county clerk failed to send it to Lansing, or the bums in Lansing misfiled it, and it took a trip to Traverse City straighten that out. If there'd been a courthouse fire or a filing error there as well, we'd have been hoping the hospital kept good records. And if that hospital went out of business... All three things going wrong might be a one in a million chance, but those happen with a 300+ million population.

    Then there are the people born in remote areas, and religious sects that believe in home birth and not telling the government anything, ...

    So this provides several alternate ways of showing that you were born in the USA, such as a baptismal certificate or witnesses to your birth or baptism. Failing that, if you can show an approximate birth date by any other means (such as the date in all your school records), then all you need is to show your mother was living in the USA at the time. Her address for a year before through a year after the birth can do that; modern Americans usually cannot even remember every address they lived at as adults, but it's no problem remembering it if your family lived on the same land in Lost Hollow for ten generations - and that's the sort of family that is most likely to "forget" to register a birth.

    So the real screwup is the instructions, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.” Uh, no, the form was designed to fill in whatever information you can reasonably obtain, leave the rest blank, and hope it's enough.

  30. markm:

    But I agree with NL's point: nobody in the government is actually going to even try to telephone your mother's doctor at the retirement home, let alone travel to Lost Hollow and verify the address is real and your mother lived there 40 years ago. You could fill out the form with random BS and get your passport. The only issue is that if you attract the wrong kind of attention later (for instance, embarrassing a federal DA by being actually innocent), they *might* find that form, check it out, and send you to prison for lying on it.

  31. jay:


    I'm lucky. At the time all this crap hit, I already had a passport, photo DL, SS card etc. I probably am grandfathered in. My birth certificate is simply a typed and stamped 'official document'. No information, handprint orANYTHING WHATSOEVER other than my name to connect it to me. Hell, when it starts to look like my time here is pretty much up, I probably should sell my ID to someone else.

  32. D. McMullen:

    This is the most insane thing I have read lately. Our government has lost it's mind! There is no way people can collect this information to fill out this form. My opinion is that the people trying to get into the USA should be screened very closely and US citizens trying to leave the USA should have a simple form with information that is verifiable and easy to fill out.

  33. christian:

    Great article. Thanks for the info, it’s easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a form DS-5513, I found a blank form here: