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There they go again Ill-conceived passport rule is subject to administration's usual incompetence

Newt Gingrich was among those heard over the years to express a desire to be "lightly governed by a strong government." These days, the former speaker of the House and potential presidential candidate can be heard revising and extending his remarks, noting how many problems in the United States today are caused not by a heavy government but by a weak one.

Gingrich has joined some of the active candidates for president and such conservative darlings as Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan, in lamenting the fact that, from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the reconstruction of post-Saddam Iraq, the Bush administration has rolled up a long record of shortsightedness, failure and just plain incompetence.

Into that political atmosphere came word that the administration's plans for requiring passports for travelers to and from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean are being rethought yet again. Not because the goal is bad, but because the implementation has proven unattainable. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff accuses those who want to delay the passport requirements of having a pre- 9/1 1 mind-set. But as long as his department and the State Department have pre- 9/1 1 bureaucracies in place for processing passport applications -- not to mention watching border crossings for tuberculosis carriers -- then it is the administration, not its critics, that is the problem.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, is among those who have been fighting to delay the passport requirement for land crossings, due to take effect Jan. 1, noting how harmful it could be to the economy of northern New York. While the bills she has introduced to delay the rules are stalled, last week the representative was confident the rules would not be applied because the government would have to admit it was not ready, either to issue enough passports or to scan them at border crossings.

Memo to the next president: Laws don't enforce themselves. Passports don't fall from the sky. Requirements that many more people need any kind of government document to do something should also mean that the bureaucracy that provides those documents has to be ramped up to provide them. The Bush administration failed to do that. The next administration will have to clean up the mess.

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