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grehorst

Get your Federal Permit? How long did it take?

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Lassiter's experience is not the common experience. In fact, I'd call it unheard of these days. TTB does not invent 166 day averages, which has been about the same for the last three months for which they have published data.

The permit goes through three stages. Triage (do you send everything you need), which is usually, but not always a short time. That's chesterBQZ's experience, above. Next it goes to a specialist. Most specialists will not even look at the application for two months. How do I know that? Because when they look at it, they either request a correction or, if they find nothing wrong, submit it for management review. They post either to the contacts permits on line page, so as an application contact, I know when things move. No posting at all tells you that it is still sitting in the stack of work that the specialist will will do when they get around to it.

When the specialist is satisfied, they send it for management disposition. Management review alone can take a month. That has become common. Again, if they find anything wrong, after two specialists have already looked at it, they will return it to the specialist for correction, which also tells about how long it takes some in management to look at the damned thing after the specialist sends it to them. Again, no posting = no action.

These time frames hold even when TTB does not ask for any correction or any additional information.

So congratulations, but as a consultant who helps people qualify with TTB, I would never represent that I had a shot in the world of getting the application through the process in 30 days. That is beyond my experience, even with a flawless application to which TTB makes no objection. As to objections, it is my experience that specialists can sometimes invent one that no one has ever voiced before, or which is actually in direct contradiction to what the written instructions require. I've said it before and I'll say it again. It is a freakin' lottery.

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We conducted what I think was an effective government affairs program to fast track our application. All of our investors wrote their US congressmen and senators requesting them to make inquiries about our application. We know that at least one congressman did make an inquiry for us (his office told us the application had been approved before anyone else knew about it). The TTB supervisor who ultimately approved our application told our consultant that they moved it quickly because it was a "congressional," suggesting that legislative inquiries can have an impact on how quickly they act on these.

Of course, that was only part of it. We were also lucky to get a specialist who wanted to get it off her desk quickly.

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There is a limiting problem with Lassister's approach to effective government liaison.  It worked because Lassiter contacted congressmen who carried the ball for it and got it the special consideration that most do not receive. A perhaps self obvious rule - not everyone's application  can receive special treatment or the treatment is not special.  

Moreover, the special consideration came at the cost of those whose applications were bumped down while Lassieter's rose to the top.  

I'd like to be clear.  I don't intend that as a  moral judgement.  I don't even want to suggest that the approach should play out in a moral spotlight.  I am just stating what I think is fact. That allows me to shine a spotlight on why I think  another approach is needed to solve the problem of long waiting periods for approval.  

Clearly, my argument hinges on a presumption that approvals are a sum-zero game, in which one person getting a larger piece of the pie can only come at the expense of someone else getting a smaller one.  That is not necessarily true.  Perhaps Lassier's approach  actual caused TTB to spend less time on reviewing Lassister's application, thereby expanding the bureau's  processing capacity.  I doubt that, but it is possible.  However, either case points to the question we should be asking, "How do we create a bigger pie that allows - or forces - TTB to expedite all applications?"  

To stick with the metaphor, the pie is bursting at the seems with your applications and it about to explode in TTB's oven.  Dropping the metaphor, the average time to approval, 165 days  is obviously unacceptable, for any number of reasons, which I don't need to state here.  But, if (1) TTB doesn't increase capacity and (2) applicants all adopt Lassister's strategy, then (3)  the Lassiter's strategy will collapse like a pyramid scheme.  To avoid that, the inquires should focus on, or drive,  a general solution that allows TTB to meet its goal of average processing times of 65 days.  If that is still unacceptable, then says some revised number, like Lassiter's 30 day turn around.  That turn around demonstrates that action in 30 days does not exceed TTB's carrying capacity for a single application.  In fact, I'd say three days doesn't exceed that capacity when dealing with only a single application.  

But TTB is not dealing with single applications and the carrying capacity is a function of the number of applications.  Whatever efficiency equation one might concoct, at some point, more applications are going to drive longer processing times.  Next, the quality of the applications received will also drive processing times.  Whether Lassiter got approval quickly, after congressional inquiry,  because the application was pristine, when most are not, is another question.  TTB says 75% of applications require correction.  While I will argue that some of the corrections requested are inane, many are legitimate.  But in any case, 30 days is possible for good applications. There are no systemic driven built-in delays that prevent approval of any particular, well prepared, application in that time.

Here is the point I want to make:,  Lassiter's solution worked for Lassiter, but it cannot work for everyone unless the general onslaught of congressional inquiries leads to changes in TTB's carrying capacity.  I think TTB must either (1) re-allocate the funds it has, (2) figures out a more effective way of processing applications that comply with the requirements of statutes, or (3) elect to ignore the requirements of the statutes and rubber stamps applications that do not comply with them.  Of course, congress could, but probably will not, cough up enough money to allow TTB to handle the increasing workload.  Bottom line, effective government liaison of the type Lassiter employed is a solution for individuals if most do not use it; it is not a solution to the real problem of the general increase in processing times..   

Here is an observation.  The question that ADI should be addressing - and here I am making a judgement - in its role as an advocate for the small distiller and its dues paying members, is what can ADI do to help implement a strategy that leads to more applications being approved more quickly.

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We finally get to post here!

Applied January 8th 2016

Approved May 9th 2016

122 Days

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Submitted TTB application on July 21st, 2016.  It moved to a status of 'Review in Process' on 2016_08_09 and it is still in that status.  It has been over 2 months and 'still' waiting.  ;-)

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It took us just over 8 months. Submitted Dec 21st, 2015, got it August 25th, 2016. Once they finally looked at it, there were a few clarifications I had to make, then they had it approved in 2 weeks. I did a lot of nagging once we got past the 6 month mark.

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Yes,  it sucks to have to pay rent on a place and not be able to produce product for so long.  8 months?  I might as well shut the whole thing down.  I will be broke long before that.

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We submitted ours May 2, 2016.  State June 3, 2016.  

TTB approved on 9/27, 2016.  Ahead of schedule.  They had one round of questions in late Aug which we turned around in a day.  Unfortunately, it was lost in the shuffle and I eventually called them to check in and they processed it that afternoon.  

State has also been very quick.  The biggest challenge is the local municipality.  They didn't know what to do with us, so we got conflicting direction which they had to sort out.  That has extended everything since the State needs a valid CO.  

Some insight for those starting or going through the process...

Definitely spend the money to have a lawyer (with experience in the industry) look over applications.  They caught a few changes which made things easier with TTB.

Wait a few months, then give the TTB a call.  It takes time to get through to someone, but once you have a direct connection, and can show that you won't be a nuisance asking for daily updates - but you do want communication open and regular, they seem to really appreciate that.  See what you can do to simplify their effort which will have them more willing to work with you.

On the town level - if you're the first distillery in town, engage the building/fire/electrical/plumbing and zoning offices asap.  They will most likely be challenged to know how to give you the inspections and oks you need.  I ended up pulling OPRAs on other towns with distilleries for any CO/building subcode documentation on record.  This gives you a baseline to present to your town to help them with their approvals.

Good luck all and stop by if you're in NJ!   

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Just wondering if everyone's online documents and status were updated the same time the approval e-mail was sent. I received my approval email but the online application has not updated at all. 

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It should update.  In your applications, the last entry on the line should now read "create amendment" instead of "review in process."  Your documents should be available on the supporting documents tab.  I said should in all cases.

 

 

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Check your DSP application tracking number and compare it to the one in your e-mail notification.  I found that they don't match.  There seems to be another record created that the original application record ties to (can't remember where off the top of my head).  Essentially I could see that my original tracking number record tied to the new one that the e-mail notifications were based on, but I didn't have rights to "see" or "read" (in computer lingo) the new record number.  I had to have my TTB agent email me all my documents as I still can't access my completed application record.  The agent I worked with said I'm the 4th person to report this problem and IT can't seem to get it fixed yet.

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Got it figured out, thanks for the replies.  They had a different e-mail than the one on file in my PONL account so there was a disconnect between my original application and approved application.  Anyhow, submitted on March 21, 2016 and received approval on November 4, 2016 (228 days).  Went through 4 rounds of comments and questions and finally received approval.  However our setup is a bit unusual as it is located in the basement of a historical hotel.

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Sorry I'm a little late on this, but wanted to share our timeline for TTB approval.  We submitted in May of this year (2016) and received approval on December 5, 2016.  In total it took 201 days.  TTB did come back with a couple of questions / clarifications around the 10th of November, but those were answered within a day and we received approval about a month later.  Reading through some of the other posts in this forum it doesn't appear as though we set any speed records obtaining approval.  However, we're fortunately not against a firm timeline, so the 201 days did not cause any burden on the business.

I contracted Dave Dunbar to assist and file the application with the TTB.  While hiring a consultant may not be for everybody, my experience was positive and would recommend him to anyone else like me coming into this industry with no prior experience.  Dave obviously cannot guarantee his services are going to expedite turnaround with the TTB, but (at least for me) his help with the application drastically sped up the timeline for submission.  I also learned a bunch in the process, and by having Dave as the point person for the application, it allowed me to focus my time on other things. 

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Re:  a 20-day approval.

Miracles do happen, but don’t expect them. 

To understand the unlikelihood of your application being approved in 20 days, you must understand the way in which TTB processes applications.  The system makes it all but impossible.  That is why 20 days to approval is miraculous.  

When you submit the application, it is assigned, within a day, to a specialist.  TTB used to use a triage system, but it appears to have abandoned that.  The assignment to the specialist appears to now be made before anyone looks at it.  The assignment to the specialist is made like dealing a deck of cards.  The applications that come in each day are dealt round robin to the specialists.  Who gets it is a lottery.

The specialist who gets the application doesn’t look at it when she or he (I’ll chose she) receives it.  It comes dealt face down and remains face down.  She doesn’t look at it to say, oh, this one is great or lousy.  It’s simply inserted into the bottom of the stack of applications she already has pending in her pile.  She works this stack from top to bottom.   This is a matter of “fair play.”  One application is not favored over another.

Since the specialists carry an “inventory” of 150 plus pending applications – I’ve heard figures as high as 250 -  it takes a while for new ones to rise to the top, no matter how well prepared, to become the old ones at which they take a first look.  This first look often does not occur for 180 days or so, although the October average time to approval was 180 days, so the average first look probably came at closer to five months after receipt rather than to six, for those applications, but that varies too, since in September the average was 206 days to approval.   

Now, is it possible that any particular application can bore through the pile to make it to the top in 20 days?  Sure, anything is possible.  But it would be an anomaly that would fall more than several standard deviations from the expected.  But, let’s assume, for purpose of argument, that such a miraculous event does occur.  What then?

TTB says 75% of applications require correction notices.  That was a 2015 figure.  My experience says it probably is now a higher number than that.  Some of that is because of real errors or omissions, but a lot is not.   I submit quite a few conscientiously and competently prepared applications.  I have found that what one specialist wants may not be what another specialist wants, so an entry that generates a “correction request” from one specialist, will not from another.  Worse yet, the “corrections” that one specialist might require might be entries that are anathema to another, i.e., precisely the entries that would generate a correction request from the second specialist. 

In short, there is no “right” way to make entries when the specialists, or their immediate supervisors, are free to invent their own rules about what is required and the form in which it should appear. [Note, in fairness, I do make errors, from time to time, that generate needed requests for correction, so not all such requests are nonsense, but in my opinion many are].

In this situation, I proceed as follows.  I read what the instructions ask for, provide that, and do so in a form that most specialists accept most of the time.  I then handle any correction request, nonsense or not, in a couple of days.  But I can’t prevent it.  And I can’t get an approval in 20 days or 40 days or 60 days or 80 days.  That is my reality.  I can’t perform miracles.

Next, let’s assume, for purposes of further argument, that the specialist who has reviewed the application within the miraculous 20 days, finds no fault with it and sends it off for “management disposition,” which is yet another hurdle that the applications must clear before it crosses the finish line.  While it is possible to get management to dispose of the application quickly, if one has been expressing legitimate concerns about how long it has been pending, getting expedited service is not likely. 

The manager’s review serves as a “quality control” check.  The managers return the application to the specialists if they find any problem and “gig” the specialist for the error, be it real or imagined.  But that is not the problem.  The problem is that the “gig” system is a Machiavellian management style that has the specialists working in fear of even the tiniest error and managers, who are also subject to gigs, working in fear that they will miss an error the specialist also missed.  The absurd consequences that result from working in fear of errors, a nitpicking, excruciatingly slow review, do not matter in TTB's present mileau.  Specialists and managers, in turn, look at each application in detail to find reasons the application should not be approved, not to find reasons that it should.    

Next, like the specialists, the managers have stacks of applications on their desks.  Yes, if you guess that the most recent ones go to the bottom of the pile, you are correct.  Unless someone is complaining about how much the processing time for their application has exceeded the average time, i.e. 180 days, not something less than 20 for others, things do not get expedited by merit.  So, absent legitimate concerns about how long the processes has already taken, again in the sense of fair play, the managers take up the applications in the order received. 

My experience says that the times in which the manager acts in less than 20 days from the date the manager received the application are not common, unless, again, there are extenuating circumstances.  So, management disposition alone general takes as much or more time than the 20-day application took from its conception to its approval.  While the 20-day approval suggests that the application may have been immaculately prepared, in the manner of which the submitter justifiably is proud, the care with which it was prepared does not account for TTB not carrying it full term.  The application was in fact "blessed."

Unless your application is similarly blessed, by whom or what I cannot suggest, your application will not receive such favored treatment.  I can all but guarantee it.  As I said, I can’t get an approval in 20 days or 40 days or 60 days or even  80 days, because they do not even look at the applications until well after such time frames are in the rear-view mirror. 

 

 

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Applied July 29, 2016. Approved January 23, 2017 (5 months 25 days).

Even though I had examples from others who had gone through the process, I was asked to re write my General Premises and Bonded Premises description, and given a new example from the TTB. I had made a mistake in how I described our tasting room. The new example was MUCH SIMPLER than anything else I had seen. That was on a Thursday. I submitted the corrections on Friday and had approval the following Monday!!

No consultant, no lawyer. When I had a question, I called the TTB support number and asked. They were very helpful.  The application while once may have been super intense,  isn't any longer. It has been greatly simplified. 

The best advice I received from the TTB was "keep it simple"!

Hope this alleviates some of the application fears out there!  It's just not that hard anymore.  Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can.  At least that was my experience. 

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