06 August 2012

Michele Thomas, left, processes an identification card for Kathryn Christian at the Fort Detrick ID Card Office. (Photo by Jeffrey Soares, USAMRMC public affairs)
It’s all in the cards at Fort Detrick

By:  Jeffrey Soares, USAMRMC Public Affairs

On average, the Identification Card office at Fort Detrick, Md. assists between 200 and 220 customers per week, which includes military personnel and their families, civilian workers, and contractors.  While these numbers may not mean much to the general public, this actually is quite an accomplishment.

“On a daily basis, there is an array of problems with the computer system that we have no control over, and it will just go down,” said Kenny Daniels, acting director of the Human Resources office.

“But even with not having any control, the hardest part is not knowing when the system will go down,” said Daniels.  “When it goes down, it can go down for minutes, hours, or even half a [business] day.”

And therein lies the biggest problem.

However, this “problem” is Army-wide, as the encoding process for ID cards has grown quite lengthy over the years due to heightened security measures across military installations.  In fact, the process for creating a valid ID card, primarily the Common Access Card, can range from 23 to 45 steps, depending upon what level of access is requested.  This process also includes electronic fingerprinting and photo capture.

Recently, some customers walking into the Fort Detrick ID Card office have seen wait times a bit longer than they would like.  The actuality of the matter, however, is that wait times at Fort Detrick are well below those at other offices such as Fort Meade, Md. and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.  In fact, Daniels says that appointments at the Bethesda facility are currently scheduled two weeks out, and the wait time at Fort Meade typically ranges between 3 to 4 hours.

Perhaps because of this, many will travel far to come to Fort Detrick, as the office still maintains a “walk-in” policy to service its customers.  The office handles clients from Maryland as well as the surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Add to this number new groups of individuals requiring ID cards, such as students up to 23 years of age, and those with older cards that need to be replaced, and one can quickly see that the amount of customers becomes exponential.  But this influx is taken in stride at Fort Detrick, as customer service remains paramount to Daniels and his team.

“We do our best to satisfy the customer at all times,” said Daniels.  “It’s not a give and take, but understanding and patience.” Michele Thomas, site security manager at the Fort Detrick office, has worked at various ID card offices over the past decade, and she ranks her current office at the top of the list in customer service.

“I’ve worked at three different ID card offices since 2002,” said Thomas, “and here we try to keep the customer posted on their progress while they’re waiting for their card.  At some other offices, the customer may walk in and never be spoken to while they wait -- sometimes for hours.”

“At our office, when the customer is called into the ID room, getting all of their information and encoding their card, the process usually takes about 20 minutes,” she said.  “We usually average about 3 to 4 minutes to encode a card, but when the system slows down, it can take up to 15 minutes or longer.”

But while the ID card database system cannot be controlled by anyone on Daniels’ team, the way they handle the situation is completely within their power, and they clearly understand this.  Within the Fort Detrick office, the focus rests on seeing that all customer requests are processed quickly and completely.  To ensure this, Daniels says that the combination of both appointment and walk-in service offers a level of flexibility that helps to meet the needs of every individual. 

“While the office is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., military personnel are given walk-in priority from 8-10 a.m. each day,” he said.  “Scheduled appointments -- up to 16 per day -- are continually met on time, and these customers are serviced on one of the three stations set up for ID card processing.”

“My goal is, if you come in with an appointment, you will be seen within 5 minutes of your appointment time,” said Daniels.  “However, whether you come in with or without an appointment, we still have no control over the computers going down.  But whenever the system is down or running slowly, we always contact the Fort Detrick webpage to post a notification for our customers.”

While the database system is usually the primary culprit in longer wait times, Thomas says that customers themselves can actually create a delay, without ever intending to do so.

“Soldier walk-in priority sometimes lengthens the wait times, but another cause of delay is when customers come in for a card, and they have document issues that they are unaware of,” said Thomas.  “Unfortunately, the ID card office cannot bypass any type of document issues, such as birth certificates, family information on file, citizenship status, and things like that.”

Although customer issues are difficult to predict, so are both inclement weather and high call-volume times, which often slow down the process quite a bit.  Daniels also said that, historically, times of increased traffic include back-to-school, October annual contract renewals, first-of-the-month military promotions, and Christmas and spring breaks for college students of military families.  Therefore, customers may expect a slight increase in wait time during these periods.

Despite the fact that the ID card office is currently operating on a “short staff” due to government budget cuts, Daniels said that everyone on his team is being cross-trained to handle ID card processing along with their hired duties.

“Although this scenario creates a gap in other areas of the office, such as processing other paperwork, we are making sure that everyone is able to process ID cards so that no one has an excessive wait,” said Daniels. 

All things considered, clients entering the ID card office should remember one main point:  ID cards are government-issued security cards, and it is truly in everyone’s best interest that these cards are actually “secure.”  This is why each customer requesting a card must present two valid forms of identification, with one showing a clear photo.  Encrypting each card helps to protect it against threats of counterfeit and use by malicious individuals or groups. 

But this takes time to do.

“Unfortunately, we cannot speed up the process,” said Daniels.  “It is what it is.  All we can do is make sure that every customer that walks through the door is treated with courtesy and respect.  And, hopefully, they’ll have a good experience, regardless of the wait time.”

Thomas would like customers to know that PIN resets for ID cards are handled at the Network Enterprise Center in building 1422 at Fort Detrick.  Card holders can go directly to the NEC office without contacting the ID card office.  Also, customers with questions about their cards are encouraged to call the ID card office at 301-619-7311 instead of traveling to the office unnecessarily.

In a nutshell, Daniels and his team at the ID card office are well aware of both the limitations of their system and the concerns of their clients -- and they remain ready and willing to “make it happen,” regardless of the circumstances. 

All they ask for is a little “understanding and patience.”

“Really, it’s too easy,” said Daniels.  “The reason we’re here is to service our customers.  We understand that, and we’d like all of our customers to know that we understand that.”   

Posted by PAO

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   - the official newspaper for Fort Detrick.
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