On Monday, August 28, a colleague at the Naval Postgraduate School emailed a number of us retirees to tell us some unfortunate news. It turned out that our retiree passes that let us get on the base where the Naval Postgraduate School is would be cancelled effective August 31. To get a new pass, we needed to fill out a form and provide paperwork.

It was really great of my colleague, Geraldo Ferrer, to get the word out. What wasn’t so great was that the Department of Defense had made this decision in February and didn’t bother to tell us retirees. So we found out with 4 days notice.

I need to get on the base for four reasons: (1) I give occasional guest lectures, (2) I attend occasional lectures, (3) I meet with former colleagues, and (4) I still occasionally take books out of the library. In each of these cases, I could get a colleague to come to the gate and escort me in, but that would get very old for the handful of colleagues whom I feel comfortable asking.

So I pulled down the form to fill out and noticed right away that because I’m a dual citizen, there was extra paperwork. One of the pieces of paper required was some kind of petition that somehow related to my having become a U.S. citizen. I had no idea what or where that was. So the next day I went to my safe deposit box in Carmel and got my required Certificate of Naturalization but could find no “petition.”

I wasn’t hopeful. The part of me that feels hopeless said, “They’re going to turn down my application because it’s missing this one item.” But my brain said, “Be an empiricist. Present all the papers, don’t even mention the one missing, and see if ┬áthe person I meet with asks for it.”

By Wednesday morning, I had all the documents assembled. We had been told to make an appointment because there was only one person tasked to handle the new IDs and he might be swamped. So I called to make an appointment and the very pleasant man on the other end told me to come down because there was no one waiting. By the time I got there, there were two people in front of me. I had a nice conversation with one while the other was filing his paperwork. I waited only about 20 minutes total.

I went in with all my documents. The employee took the form I had filled out and eyeballed my other documents in about half a second. I already started to feel relief. He did a bunch of things, moving back and forth between his computer and a printer. Then he was done.

I thought I would have to wait until someone in the police office on campus looked at my docs and I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had to be sent to the Pentagon. Why did I think that? Because of this language in the email:

While every effort will be made to expedite DBIDS card issuance for eligible DoD Retired Civilians, the standard turnaround time for receiving a DBIDS card is three (3) business days. Applicants deemed unfavorable within this period will receive notification.

But no. After my 8-minute wait in the office, the employee handed me my new ID. It was that simple.

I told him that I appreciated how pleasant he was on the phone and how easy he was to deal with.

He replied, “I try.” I answered, “You don’t just try. You succeed.”

Now I’m good for 3 more years.

I could have let my public choice theory of government, which often guides me well, tell me that there would be numerous screw-ups, that the one employee would feel overwhelmed and might have attitude, blah, blah, blah. But instead I was an empiricist. “Just try; be pleasant; don’t assume.” It worked.