[Senate Hearing 110-177]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
S. Hrg. 110-177
THE PASSPORT BACKLOG AND THE STATE DEPARTMENT'S RESPONSE TO THE WESTERN
HEMISPHERE TRAVEL INITIATIVE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS AND
ORGANIZATIONS, DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
JUNE 19, 2007
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COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
JOSEPH R. BIDEN, Jr., Delaware, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, Connecticut RICHARD G. LUGAR, Indiana
JOHN F. KERRY, Massachusetts CHUCK HAGEL, Nebraska
RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD, Wisconsin NORM COLEMAN, Minnesota
BARBARA BOXER, California BOB CORKER, Tennessee
BILL NELSON, Florida JOHN E. SUNUNU, New Hampshire
BARACK OBAMA, Illinois GEORGE V. VOINOVICH, Ohio
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey LISA MURKOWSKI, Alaska
BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
ROBERT P. CASEY, Jr., Pennsylvania JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia
JIM WEBB, Virginia DAVID VITTER, Louisiana
Antony J. Blinken, Staff Director
Kenneth A. Myers, Jr., Republican Staff Director
SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS AND
ORGANIZATIONS, DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
BILL NELSON, Florida, Chairman
RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD, Wisconsin DAVID VITTER, Louisiana
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey GEORGE V. VOINOVICH, Ohio
ROBERT P. CASEY, Jr., Pennsylvania JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
JIM WEBB, Virginia JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia
C O N T E N T S
Harty, Hon. Maura, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs,
Department of State, Washington, DC............................ 6
Prepared statement........................................... 11
Responses to questions from Senator Nelson................... 46
Responses to questions from Senator Lugar.................... 54
Lugar, Hon. Richard G., U.S. Senator from Indiana, prepared
Nelson, Hon. Bill, U.S. Senator from Florida, opening statement.. 1
Vitter, Hon. David, U.S. Senator from Louisiana, opening
Additional Material Submitted for the Record
Press Release of Hon. John F. Kerry, U.S. Senator from
Letters submitted by Hon. George V. Voinovich, U.S. Senator from
Letter to Secretary Condoleezza Rice, June 7, 2007........... 28
Letter to Secretaries Condoleezza Rice and Michael Chertoff,
June 13, 2007.............................................. 29
Letter from the State Department, July 24, 2007.............. 30
Letter to Senator Daniel K. Akaka, chairman, Oversight
Subcommittee, June 13, 2007................................ 31
TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007
Subcommittee on International Operations
Organizations, Democracy, and Human Rights,
Committee on Foreign Relations,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:33 p.m. in
room SD-419, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Hon. Bill Nelson
(chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Senators Bill Nelson, Feingold, Menendez, Webb,
Lugar, Coleman, Voinovich, Murkowski, Isakson, and Vitter.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BILL NELSON,
U.S. SENATOR FROM FLORIDA
Senator Bill Nelson. Good afternoon. It seems like there is
a little bit of interest here in the subject matter of this
hearing. And, indeed, it is something that has caused a great
deal of consternation.
Madam Assistant Secretary, I appreciate your willingness to
come here today so that we can talk about what went wrong, how
to get it fixed, and how it won't happen again. There's this
huge backlog of passports. Some people have been waiting as
long as 5 months for a passport. It's estimated there is a
backlog of upward of 2 million passport applications. We've got
to get this straightened out.
We have the implementation of a new, good, policy, the
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. It protects our borders,
but it also protects American citizens while they are traveling
away from home. But the processing delays are causing
hardships, and because of that we've had to suspend the Western
Hemisphere Travel Initiative. And what does that do? That
doesn't make us secure, as the Western Hemisphere Travel
Initiative intended. That law was passed at the end of 2004,
and the State Department has had over 2 years to plan for, and
implement, the new policy of requiring passports for traveling
to Canada, to Mexico, and to the Caribbean.
Madam Ambassador, you're going to find that there's a good
deal of frustration that will be expressed here, because
millions of Americans, in their frustration at not getting a
passport, have turned only where they know where to turn, and
that is to their Senator or to their Congressman. I can tell
you that our offices are absolutely overwhelmed. But I want to
tell you also that, thank goodness, you've got a bunch of
dedicated people working on the line, working their little
fingers to the bone, trying to process these passport
applications. And so, I cannot say enough good things about
what people on the line at the Department of State have been
doing in cooperating with the staffs of the Members of Congress
and the Members of the Senate in trying to bring about some
relief for some of these folks.
So, I want it nailed down right here that the State
Department people who are down there in the trenches working
are working as hard as they can. What we want to focus on is
the managers. Why has this problem been mismanaged? Why do we
have these frustrations and delays?
Here's just a sampling from three people I met with
yesterday in Tampa:
A single mom whose son was in an automobile accident in
Panama. His two buddies were killed, and he was seriously
injured and went through two surgeries. She's having difficulty
getting a passport so she can get to him to take care of him.
A civic-minded couple that are raising money for cancer,
and part of that fundraiser was that they were climbing Mount
Kilimanjaro, and, of course, they got caught in the backlog,
too, and they wouldn't have gotten their passport, had they not
A dedicated father trying to make sure that his daughter,
who had been training in Orlando, can join the U.S. Olympic
softball team in Europe.
And then, of course, we have the problem of families that
the passport application has been in for a month for the
children, and the parents have to decide whether or not they
have to leave the children behind because they can't get the
In the backlog of 2 million passport applications, many of
those travelers have had to cancel their trips. And they've
been planning months in advance. They've paid all the money out
in advance. In some cases, they have nonrefundable tickets.
They go about paying the extra 60 bucks to expedite things, and
that doesn't do any good. And so, you have a mess.
At the post office that I went to yesterday in Tampa, the
Post Office Department has issued this press guidance so that
all the people coming in there to apply for a passport, that
there is a policy on refunds for expedited passport
applications. This says the Department of State deeply regrets
any inconvenience caused to travelers whose passports were not
available in time for their planned travel. Travelers who have
paid their $60 fee and have a reason to believe that they
didn't get the expedited service should issue a written
statement to the Department of State. Why don't we just change
that policy? Why should they have to apply to get it back?
Since there hasn't been any expedited service, why don't we
just automatically start sending those folks their $60 back,
instead of Senator Lugar and Senator Vitter and I having to
pass something in law that says that you have to give it back?
Why doesn't the Department of State just do that, as a matter
of policy, instead of having them have to go through more
paperwork hassle to get their 60 bucks back? Which, oh, by the
way, $97 for a passport, plus 60 bucks, that's 157 bucks. For a
family of four, that's over $600. That's getting pretty sporty,
and, in and of itself, will cause a problem of people being
able to travel.
The jam began when the Western Hemisphere Travel
Initiative, which was a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission,
went into effect. And last January the rules were that you had
to have a passport to go to Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean.
The current turnaround time now is in the range of 10 to 12
weeks, and normally it would be 4 to 6 weeks. Half a million
applications have been in the system for more than 3 months.
And now, in order to reduce the backlog for the summer travel,
the Department is temporarily scaling back implementation of
that initiative until September 30, saying that you don't have
to produce the passport to travel in those three areas in the
Western Hemisphere if you can show that you have applied for
the passport. But what happened to the policy, 2\1/2\ years
ago, that said we're going to make America more secure by
requiring a passport in the first place?
Yesterday, I met a 78-year-old widow--she was told, even
after we got into the situation, we were going to have to send
her to the passport office in Miami--she lives in Tampa--which,
when she left me, yesterday at about noontime, she was driving
to--from Tampa to Miami. Initially, she was told that she was
going to have to get in the line at 4 o'clock in the morning on
the street in Miami, FL. We raised such a ruckus, that a 78-
year-old widow would be required to do this, that finally the
Department said, ``We will schedule an appointment for her at 8
o'clock in the morning.'' This isn't the way to do business.
This subcommittee hopes that you're going to be able to
address the State Department's response to the Western
Hemisphere Initiative, and, out of our discussion, what we want
you to do is to answer, that, if you knew in November that you
had received 250,000 more applications than originally
projected, and then, in January, knew that the problem had
grown to 600,000 above your estimates, then why did it take the
Department so long to act? Now, I understand, Madam Secretary,
that you're one of the best in the business, that you are a
career Foreign Service officer who has a magnificent record.
And so, this isn't directed at you, personally. But I want
to know who is accountable--because when I was in the military,
I was taught that the captain of the ship was accountable and
responsible for everything that happened on the ship--and that
document, right there, my passport--and I open it up, and who
is the captain of the ship? It says the Secretary of State of
the United States of America. So, we want to know who's
accountable and why this mess has happened.
And we also want to know, to what extent the State
Department feels that the private contractor is responsible for
this. And why, with a 20-year service of a private contractor,
did you suddenly change to a new private contractor? And how do
you answer, when you say it's the private contractor's fault,
that the private contractor says, ``No, it isn't, it's the
State Department's fault''?
So, what is the State Department going to do to remedy the
problem? As you can see by the turnout here, there's
frustration, because every one of us is inundated on people--
these cries of anguish that are coming.
We'd like to know, also, how many have applied using the
$60 fee. Is that 100,000? Is it a million? If it's a million,
my goodness, you've suddenly got $60 million. And what are we
going to do to get that money back to them? And then, what are
you going to do to make sure that the backlog does not
And already we have--and we're just talking about air
travel in the Western Hemisphere Initiative--we have already
put off the land and the sea travel requirement of a passport,
and now, over on the House side, in the Appropriations
Committee, they've already gone through the drill of delaying
that from January 2008 all the way to June 2009. Now, how does
that serve the interest of the United States in protecting the
homeland, which was the original intention of the 9/11
And I say, again, to you, Madam Secretary, you are the best
in the business. You are a career Foreign Service officer.
You're reputation precedes you. I'm not picking on you. You're
the courageous one that came here to give answers to these
questions. But the emotion in my voice is being expressed for
all of these here, and all of those out there that are not at
this hearing, that are desperately looking for answers.
So, let me turn to Senator Vitter.
And, Senator Lugar, did you have an opening statement that
you wanted to make?
Senator Lugar. Mr. Chairman, I did, but I--in the
expediency of time, I'll ask for it to be in the record in this
Senator Bill Nelson. OK, without objection.
[The prepared statement of Senator Lugar follows:]
Prepared Statement of Hon. Richard G. Lugar, U.S. Senator From Indiana
I join in welcoming Assistant Secretary Harty to the committee. I
am hopeful that our inquiry today will illuminate the problems
experienced by many Americans who are attempting to secure their
passports for important travel. Congress should be working closely with
the State Department to reduce processing times, improve information
for passport customers, and ensure that emergency cases are addressed.
With a change in law occurring on January 23, 2007, thousands of
Americans followed new rules and sought a passport for travel in the
Western Hemisphere. However, their honest efforts ran into a
bureaucratic system unable to handle the vastly increased demand. In
many cases, processing times tripled from past years. This has led to a
wave of desperate travelers appealing to congressional offices for help
in salvaging vacations, business trips, and other travel.
Passport inquires are now the No. 1 casework concern in my Indiana
offices by a wide margin. I anticipate that this is true for most
Senate offices. In recent months, I increased the number of staffers
dealing with passports from one to seven and instituted e-mail and Web
site features to help process requests and disseminate information.
Although inquiries by my office to Passport Agency personnel and
contractors have been treated courteously and pleasantly, the
information provided to constituents and my staff was often erroneous
or unhelpful. Constituents have been told that their passports were on
the way only to find out days later that no meaningful progress had
been made toward processing them. Other constituents reported that
regardless of what time of day they called the Passport Agency, they
were unable to connect with agency personnel about their application.
The passport office in New Orleans, to which Indiana passport
applications are sent, clearly is inadequately staffed.
As a last-ditch option, my staff has guided Hoosiers who were set
to depart within 48 hours to the Chicago Passport Agency. There, after
a long drive, they could undertake the burdensome task of waiting in a
line that stretched around the building, working their way through
security, and then reapplying for their passport. For constituents who
were not born in Indiana, or even the United States, and who had
already sent in their only birth certificate with their original
application, this option proved especially difficult. Some constituents
were forced to pay the passport application fee a second time when they
appeared in Chicago. Enduring this process, just hours before an
overseas departure caused enormous anxiety for countless travelers.
On June 6, I wrote to Secretary Rice to share the passport
experiences of Hoosiers and appeal for urgent efforts to fix the
system. I appreciate the administration's decision on June 8 to allow
U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda
to enter and depart from the United States by air with a government-
issued photo identification and proof of application for a passport.
This temporary fix lasts through September 30, 2007.
In my letter to Secretary Rice, I indicated that the State
Department should not be reticent to ask Congress for whatever
additional resources are necessary to make the passport process run
smoothly. We want a first-class passport system that meets our security
needs while facilitating the travel of Americans. This travel is
essential to our foreign policy, our economy, and the cultural and
educational life of our citizens.
I thank the chairman and look forward to our discussion.
Senator Bill Nelson. Senator Vitter.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. DAVID VITTER, U.S. SENATOR FROM
Senator Vitter. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this
hearing, because I certainly join you and everyone else in
expressing how serious a crisis this is.
All of us hear about these horror stories from our
constituents, literally daily now. And so, I want to underscore
how serious a crisis this is, and add my voice to the extreme
concern about it.
I really don't know where to begin; but certainly, again, I
think all of us hear these stories directly from constituents.
In my case, I have some who applied for their passports in
March for a June trip with their church, and, despite thinking
ahead and planning ahead, they were still forced to pay extra
for expedited service in May, and they still had to drive to
the FedEx depot the day before the trip to get the passports
before leaving the country.
Another constituent, who made a 7-hour drive from her
hometown to New Orleans, where there was a passport office,
stood in line for several more hours, drove 7 more hours back
the day before her wedding so she didn't have to skip a
And these are the success stories.
Then there are plenty of failure stories that we hear all
the time, constituents who spend hours waiting on hold, only to
have the call dropped before ever speaking to a real person. My
staff could not get through, themselves, for guidance or help,
even on those lines dedicated to congressional staff. So, lines
dedicated for congressional staff, my staff regularly couldn't
My staff talked to folks who, when they did get through to
a real person, frequently were unable to help, unable to
provide answers, unable to give any hope to those trying to get
a passport to see family, attend a wedding, or go on a very
So, this is really inexcusable. My questions are probably
the same as anybody's.
No. 1: How could the Department and the contractors be so
off on forecasting demand? I mean, I assume travel within the
hemisphere has not increased 1,000 percent overnight
unexpectedly. I assume it's been a steady growth and nothing
dramatic has changed in the last year, so how could we be so
completely off on the forecast?
No. 2: How could we be so slow in responding to increased
numbers once they were actually coming in?
And I also want to put this in a broader context. I'm very
concerned, because it's, yet again, another story of the
complete failure of competence in government, and ineptness.
And I have real concern, when we're living through this, and
yet, you know, we're talking about still implementing the part
of the program with regard to land and sea entries that's
expected to involve four times the number of passports as we
have in this current situation. We're talking about this when
we're debating an immigration bill. I know this wouldn't be
your bailiwick, per se, in terms of administration. We're
debating an immigration bill that would require all sorts of
IDs and new visas for millions of additional people, including
12 million illegal immigrants in the country. This is just
another example of ineptness that absolutely destroys
Americans'--including mine--confidence in the Federal
Government doing anything right and competently. And yet,
we're--some of us, not my vote--but some of us are forging
into, you know, experiments in legislation that would require
agencies--in the immigration case, Homeland Security--to do
things on a scale way beyond this by hundreds or thousands of
times over. So, I'm really very concerned, and certainly want
some immediate solution to the passport backlog, because this
is an immediate and ongoing crisis.
Thank you, again, for being here, and for being subjected
to all these questions on behalf of your Department.
Senator Bill Nelson. And thank you for being the designated
hitter. Maybe we should haul up some of your other colleagues,
but we'll wait and hear, on the basis of your testimony.
Your written statement is entered as part of the record. We
don't want you to read it to us. We want you just to talk to
us, and then we'll get into our questions.
So, Madam Secretary.
STATEMENT OF HON. MAURA HARTY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR CONSULAR
AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE, WASHINGTON, DC
Ambassador Harty. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, Ranking
Member Vitter, distinguished members of the subcommittee.
I do thank you for your comments. I have a slightly shorter
statement that I will put in for the record.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK, but don't read it. Talk to us.
Ambassador Harty. I certainly will talk to you, sir.
I would also like to, in all candor, identify myself as the
captain of this ship, with respect to the Bureau of Consular
Affairs. And it is, in fact, our responsibility. We are charged
with adjudicating passports. It's the most valuable document on
the planet. We're responsible for adjudicating it in a way that
makes it a process accessible to all Americans, and also in a
way that makes sure that all--and only all--Americans who
should have a passport get them. That is, we have a security
element here. The adjudication of who receives a passport is a
critical element of what we do.
Demand is, as both of you--as all of you, I think, in the
room know, know at this time--is at unprecedented levels, and
so is the number of passports that we are, in fact, producing.
In fiscal year 2005, we produced 10.1 million passports. Last
year, we did 12.1 million passports. As of May 31 of this year,
we've already done 10.3 million passports, a 33-percent
increase over the same period the year before, and we're on
pace right now to issue over 17 million by the end of this
Sir, we regard ourselves as a service organization in the
Bureau of Consular Affairs, and we set high standards for
ourselves. It's what the American people expect, and, in fact,
of course, deserve, of us. Throughout our history as an
organization, we have, with rare exceptions, met those
standards of service, and we are taking steps now to ensure
that we do so just as soon as possible again. No one, Mr.
Chairman, is more aware that over the past several months many
travelers who have applied for a passport have not received
that document in the timeframe that they expected, and, in some
cases, have missed their trips. I deeply regret that,
personally and professionally, and regard the current situation
So, with your permission, sir, I'd like to brief you on the
current situation, in what we are doing now, what we will do
over the longer term, to turn turnaround times around again.
When Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism
Prevention Act, in December 2004, which established the travel
documentation requirements that the Western Hemisphere Travel
Initiative implements, we analyzed our figures. We also
commissioned an independent study, which led us to predict that
we would receive approximately 16.2 million passport
applications in 2007. We ramped up capacity against that
prediction. We hired 441 employees in passport services in
fiscal year 2005, another 925 in fiscal year 2006, over 1,200,
thus far, in 2007, a total of 2,588 in less than 3 years. I
think we know that bureaucracy is not the most agile, and we
have tried our best to be as agile as we could be. These
figures, of course, represent both adjudicators--passport
specialists--as well as contractors who perform the
nonadjuducative functions, things that are not inherently
governmental. I should point out that during this time we've
also had significant attrition.
Also, to get at this demand, we opened another passport
agency in Colorado in October 2005. We expanded our footprint
in Houston, in Chicago, in New Orleans, in Boston, and in
Seattle. We made them as big as we could in the parameters that
we faced. Our National Passport Center, up in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire, went to 24/7 operations. Our mega center in
Charleston is doing the same thing. We added shifts at most
other agencies, and made the days extensive. Last week, we cut
the ribbon, as you might have heard, on our new mega processing
facility in Arkansas. We have been, Mr. Chairman, in perpetual
forward motion since the passage of the law which created the
We had a significant setback. Hurricane Katrina had an
impact on our operations. Before Katrina, our New Orleans
Passport Agency processed approximately 20 percent of all of
our overall workload. And in preparation for the WHTI, we
planned to increase that to 25 percent, a quarter of our
workload. Following Katrina, the New Orleans agency, which was
out of commission for about 5 months and reopened in February
2006, reopened with a capacity that was significantly reduced.
So, right now, the good people in New Orleans at our agency are
working hard, but they're processing 10 percent of the demand.
We had counted on them for more. They have a lot of heart, and
I thank you for the things you've said about them, because,
only earlier today, I got an e-mail from a woman who said,
``Today is my 30-year anniversary working for Passport Services
in New Orleans, and I want to thank you for the privilege.''
So, we have people with plenty of heart out there. I thank you
for what you said, Mr. Chairman.
We projected we would receive 16.2 million applications in
the course of FY07, but we are on pace to receive at least 1\1/
2\ million more than that.
One of the things that we failed to predict was how quickly
American citizens would choose to apply for a passport in
recognition of the new law. A recordsetting, unprecedented
demand in a compressed period of time really was the root of
the immediate challenge. Applications increased dramatically in
a very short timeframe. Just to give you an idea, in December
of last year, before the requirement was in place, we received
1 million applications. Then demand spiked sharply; in part,
because we actually tried to advertise the Western Hemisphere
Travel Initiative. So, in January, we saw 1.8 million
applications; in February, another 1.7 million; in March, 1.997
million--5.4 million applications in a very short period of
time. Again, I think part of that was our extensive outreach to
make sure that American citizens knew about the new
But I think there's more to it than that, sir, in all
candor, and it's hard for us to put a number against this.
American citizens, due to our outreach, and, I think, in fact,
due to a lot of the media coverage of this new requirement,
have applied for passports in droves, and it is not always
because they mean to travel. American citizens have realized
this is the premier document on the planet, but also in this
country, to make sure that, when they apply for a Federal
benefit, they can prove who they are and that they're an
American citizen. If they apply for a job, they can prove who
they are and that they're a U.S. citizen. I had one of my
colleagues pull a box of 200 applications for me yesterday just
to look, because we ask, on each application: Where are you
going, and when are you going? Out of 200 applications, 20 had
travel plans. Twenty out of 200. I did this 3 weeks ago. It was
only a box of 60 at that point. Out of that box, four said they
had immediate travel plans or travel plans at all. Hard to
quantify, no excuse, but it is a new phenomenon.
I think one of the things that happened when this law was
passed and when we began to advertise it is, we heard--we asked
Americans to change their behavior, to begin to think
differently, not only about a border crossing, but to think
about the importance of a passport in other ways. I took a trip
not so long ago, sir, from Washington, DC, to Arizona. A number
of people on that flight--and I'm sure you see it, yourselves,
when you travel--used a passport, even for domestic travel, to
prove they are who they say they are, and that they are, in
fact, American citizens.
As a result of all of this demand, sir, receipts far
exceeded, as you know and have quantified, our ability to keep
pace with them in the traditional timeframe. It began to take
longer to process applications. It moved to 10 to 12 weeks,
where it is right now. We have updated, regularly, our Web
site, on that subject. We've done a number of other things. We
worked with our call center and our lockbox facilities at the
highest levels, to ramp up capacity. We built an overflow call
center at our Kentucky Consular Center, and put 100 people on
the line right away. We built another one here at the State
Department. All agencies are working extended hours, weekends
and evenings. We stood up another task force at the State
Department itself to adjudicate applications. That's people who
are working their day jobs, and then coming at night and on
weekends, and others not doing their day jobs, and we've done
80,000, just here at the State Department, in the task force
that we set up.
We implemented mandatory overtime. We suspended, for the
time being, all noncritical training for existing employees. We
are continuing to hire aggressively. We dispatched teams of
passport specialists to the exceptionally high counter-volume
agencies, so that they could assist with the walk-in
applications that we had. We also accelerated plans for
expansion of new facilities to accommodate the increased staff.
As a result of these efforts, even as we are receiving
higher numbers of applications, we're issuing record numbers of
documents, an average of 1.5 million per month, 1.6 million in
We know that the great majority of people who apply for
passports are getting them in time to travel. We recognize
that's not good enough. We recognize that we have to do better
than that for everybody who applies for a passport.
In light of the current situation, sir, Secretaries Rice
and Chertoff agreed that DHS would use its existing authority
to exercise flexibility in determining the documentation
required of American citizens to enter and depart the United
States during the transition phase of the WHTI air rule. So,
until September 30 of this year, Americans traveling to Canada,
to Mexico, to Bermuda, and to countries in the Caribbean, who
have applied for, but not yet received, their passports, can
reenter the United States by air with a Government-issued photo
ID, as well as the Department of State official proof of
application, which they can pull off of our Web site. Since we
made that announcement, 371,000 Americans have availed
themselves of that particular page, so they are, in fact, using
Since we announced that policy, on June 8, we've conducted
numerous briefings, public outreach activities to inform the
public, and DHS has done the same with the airlines. Our
embassies have worked extensively with the countries in
question so that we see that--Mexico, Canada, the Bahamas,
Aruba, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica, all have agreed to
accept this, and these are countries of--largest receiving
countries for American tourist travel. All have agreed to
accept this flexible transitional phase that we are going
through now. So, people are beginning to make their trips.
And, while we will, of course, process to completion all of
the applications on hand, this particular approach took a
little bit of pressure off, and it allows us to reach in and
get to the passport applications of those who still need the
passport. If you needed it yesterday for Mexico, but the
flexible approach allows you to take the trip anyway, I'm going
to be able to reach in much more readily and get the passport
application of somebody going to Europe or another part of the
world who still needs that passport, even as we speak.
I know that many people have had trouble getting through
the line to the National Passport Information Center. It's been
a major source of frustration to your constituents, to you all,
I'm sure, and certainly to myself, as well.
The Center has increased staff now to nearly 500. They've
promised me 800 customer service representatives by early
August. They've extended operating hours, and they've added 432
additional high-capacity telephone lines so that they can get
to those calls.
Mr. Chairman, it's clear to us that the WHTI implementation
means a permanent increase in passport demand. The
recordbreaking numbers that we have seen are likely not an
anomaly. Demand is going to continue to grow. We have another
workload study underway now, taking some of the things we've
learned, and we will--we have some informal predictions that we
will work together through that study so that we can get the
best numbers we possibly can. We're looking at approximately 23
million applicants in 2008, and as high as 30 million by 2010.
We are committed to building the capacity to meet that demand.
Additional resources are essential. On June 8, we notified
Congress that the Department plans to devote an additional
nearly $40 million, for FY07, to hire an additional 400
personnel this fiscal year, and to fund the expansion of our
National Passport Center in Portsmouth and our Miami passport
agency. I have walked the space in Miami. It'll go from 18,000
square feet to 28,000 square feet in a new and better building
and in a safer neighborhood. I've looked at some space in
Portsmouth, myself, and we are in the GSA fast-track process of
looking--or of getting space that will do the trick for us.
We're hiring numbers--numbers of new employees at record
pace, and we're seeing--I hope you're seeing, sir, a 100-
percent--1,000-percent effort, even--from our people in the
field. I think they're terrific. As some staffers have already
told us--specifically from your own office, Sherry Davich and
Peggy Gustav and Karen Cully--have been terrific, and they have
graciously noted the efforts of some of our people to help
them, as well.
I think the world of U.S. passport production has changed
fundamentally, and, with the passage of the Intelligence Reform
and Terrorism Prevention Act and the WHTI, we are committed to
meeting the American public's demand for reliable, secure
travel documents. We are committed to achieving, for our
Nation, the security and efficiency benefits of WHTI. We have
committed to working tirelessly to improve the efficiency, the
transparency of the passport process, while continuing to
ensure the integrity of the process and the physical document
I thank you very much for your patience, for the
opportunity to be here today to take your questions, to take
your suggestions, to discuss ways forward as we continue to try
and help the American traveling public.
Thank you, sir.
[The prepared statement of Ambassador Harty follows:]
Prepared Statement of Hon. Maura Harty, Assistant Secretary of State
for Consular Affairs, Department of State, Washington, DC
Chairman Nelson, Ranking Member Vitter, distinguished members of
the subcommittee, I appreciate this opportunity to discuss how the
Bureau of Consular Affairs is working to meet the needs of American
citizens for reliable, secure passports.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) is charged with adjudicating
applications for one of the most valuable travel documents on the
planet: The U.S. passport. We are responsible for issuing passports in
a manner that ensures that the application process is accessible to all
Americans, and that only those entitled to the privileges and benefits
of U.S. citizenship, including a U.S. passport, receive one.
We issue passports with state-of-the-art security features,
including an electronic chip and biometrics to make the
document harder to forge, alter, or misuse. We have been
issuing these ``e-passports'' since August 2006, and are
producing them at each of our 18 passport agencies around the
We issued 10.1 million passports in fiscal year 2005 and
12.1 million last year. In May 2007, we issued 1.66 million
passports, a record high. As of May 31, we have issued 10.3
million passports this fiscal year--a 33-percent increase over
the same period last year--and are on pace to issue over 17
million by the end of the year;
We worked closely with our colleagues in the Department of
Homeland Security to implement the Western Hemisphere Travel
Initiative (WHTI) Air Phase, which took effect on January 23,
2007. Polling data indicate strong public compliance with and
support for this measure to enhance security and efficiency at
As a service organization, we set high standards for ourselves in
CA; it is what the American public expects and deserves. Throughout our
history as an organization we have, with rare exceptions, met those
standards and we are taking the steps necessary to ensure that we
return to meeting those standards just as soon as possible.
No one is more aware than I of the fact that, in the past several
months, many travelers who applied for a passport did not receive their
documents in the timeframe they expected. In some cases, the passports
did not arrive in time for planned travel. I deeply regret that. All of
us in CA are dismayed by such stories--and we consider the current
I am confident that we will correct this situation, and we are
pursuing several strategies toward that goal. I would like to brief you
on the current state of affairs, and what CA is doing now and over the
longer term to improve our turnaround time.
how did we get here? passport receipts exceed expectations
We have been planning for increased passport demand since Congress
passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004
(IRTPA), which included a provision requiring all travelers to have a
passport or other combination of documents establishing identity and
citizenship to travel into and out of the United States.
Following passage of IRPTA, we had 2 years to plan for the expected
increase in passport demand. First we analyzed our own figures. We also
commissioned a survey conducted by an independent contractor, which
predicted that we would receive 16.2 million passport applications in
FY 2007. We ramped up capacity by adding staff, expanding facilities,
and enhancing service.
We hired 441 employees in Passport Services in FY 2005, 925 in FY
2006, and 1,222 thus far in FY 2007--a total of 2,588 in less than 3
years. These figures include passport adjudicators and contractors who
perform critical nonadjudicative functions at our passport agencies.
In October 2005, we inaugurated the Colorado Passport Agency to
address the travel needs of citizens throughout the Rocky Mountain
region. In October 2006, we contracted for a mega-processing passport
center in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and opened it 120 days later in March
2007. We cut the ribbon on the Arkansas Passport Center (APC) last
week, after giving it a little bit of opportunity to get up and
running. APC will be able to produce 10 million passports annually when
it reaches full capacity later this year.
In November 2005, we expanded our lockbox service with two sites,
one in Delaware and another in California, which operate 24/7. At the
lockboxes, applications are sorted and fee checks are deposited. The
lockboxes then forward the applications to our 18 passport facilities
around the country for processing. Lockboxes are a U.S. Government best
practice that streamlines the application process for a number of
government interactions. By expanding lockbox coverage from one central
site to two, we have introduced greater service capacity and redundancy
of passport application processing operations, the latter of which will
allow us greater flexibility in the event of a crisis.
In January 2006, we added a second shift at our Charleston Passport
Center (CPC) and implemented 24/7 operations at our National Passport
Center (NPC) in New Hampshire. We also increased the size of our
Houston and New Orleans passport agencies, have identified space for a
much larger replacement facility in Miami and are engaged with the
General Services Administration right now on a fast-track search for
additional space in order to expand our National Passport Center in
We implemented a Centralized Appointment System, which allows
customers to schedule appointments through the National Passport
Information Center (NPIC) for any of our domestic agencies nationwide.
We also implemented an online status check service. This service,
available through the CA Web site, travel.state.gov, allows customers
to check the status of their passport application from their desktop.
the situation in 2007--when phase i of whti took effect
Our projection was for 16.2 million passport applications in FY
2007, and we planned against that projection. In fact, applications
increased dramatically in a very short timeframe, and Americans applied
for passports in record-setting numbers. In the final month before WHTI
implementation, December 2006, we received approximately 1 million
applications. In response to our outreach and public education effort
regarding WHTI, we then received 1.8 million applications in January
2007, 1.7 million in February, and 1.997 million in March. Essentially
5.4 million applications in a very short period of time greatly
stressed the system. We simply did not anticipate American citizens'
willingness to comply so quickly with the new law.
In addition, many people who indicate no overseas travel plans have
applied for a passport because they see it as the premier citizenship
and identity document, one that allows the bearer to board an airplane,
prove citizenship for employment purposes, apply for federal benefits,
and fulfill other needs not related to international travel.
The bottom line: The increase in demand was sharper and more
compressed than we expected. Receipts far exceeded our ability to keep
pace with them in our traditional timeframe. As a result, it began to
take longer to process applications. Our average processing time
lengthened from 6 weeks in December, to 10 to 12 weeks today.
We have taken extraordinary measures to address this issue and
respond to the public. We set up telephone and adjudication taskforces
to supplement our regular operations and handle the overflow in the
volume of calls and of work. We brought back retired annuitants. We
expanded hours--having agencies work evenings and weekends. Qualified
employees from throughout the Bureau of Consular Affairs have
volunteered their time, or been taken off of other duties to work on
There are 2.95 million applications currently pending at our
passport agencies. At our current rate of issuance, this represents
approximately 8 weeks' worth of work on hand. We are processing most
routine applications within 10 to 12 weeks and expedited applications
within 2 to 3 weeks. We do not expect these processing times to
increase. For faster service, our counter agencies continue to provide
same-day service to as many travelers as we can accommodate with
evidence of imminent departure dates. We have and will continue to
regularly update these estimates on our Web site and through our
communications with the media.
At the same time as we are receiving record numbers of
applications, we are issuing record numbers of passports. We issue an
average of 1.5 million passports per month; in May, we issued 1.6
million passports. The great majority of Americans who apply for
passports are getting them on time. But we recognize that most is not
good enough. So we are doing something about it.
addressing record demand: the short term
Flexible Interpretation of Documentation Requirements
To ensure that travelers would be able to carry through with their
travel plans, we and the Department of Homeland Security agreed that
additional steps were warranted. On June 8, State and DHS announced
that DHS would use its existing authority to exercise flexibility in
determining the documentation required of American citizens to enter
and depart from the United States during this continuing transition
phase of WHTI Air Phase implementation.
Under these temporary measures--which will be applied through
September 30, 2007--American citizens returning from Canada, Mexico,
Bermuda, or countries in the Caribbean region, who have applied for,
but not yet received, their passports can reenter the United States by
air with a government-issued photo identification and Department of
State official proof of application for a passport. Children under the
age of 16 traveling with their parents or legal guardian will be
permitted to travel with the child's proof of application status.
As official proof of application for a passport, travelers can
present the printout of the online status check that the traveler can
make at www.travel.state.gov. The printout shows that an application
has been received by our Office of Passport Services.
This temporary measure is designed to accommodate U.S. citizen
travelers returning to the United States. This accommodation does not
mean that Americans are exempt from meeting the entry requirements of
individual countries. Entry requirements for those countries remain in
effect. We have consulted with the governments of countries affected by
WHTI and many of them also will be able to take a flexible approach. We
continue to recommend, as we have always done, that travelers verify a
country's specific entry requirements before departure. Contact
information is included in the Consular Information Sheets we maintain
for every country and which are available at www.travel.state.gov.
Since the June 8 announcement, my colleagues in the Bureau of
Consular Affairs and I have conducted numerous briefings and other
public outreach activities to inform the public about this
accommodation. DHS' Customs and Border Protection agency briefed air
carriers. We stay in frequent communication with the travel and tourism
industry, and with our passport agencies, and passport acceptance
facilities around the country to get feedback and stay abreast of
The joint State-DHS announcement had an immediate impact. On
Monday, June 11, more than 61,000 users accessed the Internet site from
which proof of a pending passport application can be obtained. The
number of telephone and e-mail inquiries to our National Passport
Information Center declined precipitously. It is true that there were
some software issues that prevented a small number of people from being
able to obtain the proof of application they needed; we developed a
workaround that appears to be working.
Flexibility in the WHTI document requirements will help us process
more rapidly the applications we have on hand by allowing us to focus
on those travelers who must have a passport to travel. We will, of
course, process to completion all applications on hand; we expect to
work through the existing backlog by fall. We are redoubling attention
to hiring and training additional staff and plan to finish facility
expansions at several of our agencies.
Refunds for Expedite Fees
Recently, a number of questions have arisen about refunds--in
particular for travelers who paid the expedite fee. Let me turn now to
that issue. We are aware that due to the enormous increase in passport
demand and lengthening of turnaround times, many citizens opted to pay
for expedited service. I want to assure you today that everyone who
paid for expedited service had their application effectively ``moved to
the front of the line.'' In spite of our best efforts, some travelers
who paid for expedited service did not receive their passport within
the timeframe we promised--2 to 3 weeks. We sincerely regret that and
we will consider, on a case-by-case basis refund requests from
customers who paid for expedited service and have reason to believe
that they did not receive expedited service.
Strategies to Increase Passport Production
In addition to these measures to help travelers, the Bureau of
Consular Affairs is working flat-out to increase passport production.
We expanded the hours of operation at all of our passport
agencies, including evenings and weekends; counters are open on
Saturdays for emergency appointments, which we are scheduling
through our call center.
NPC and CPC, which together issue over 50 percent of all
passports nationwide, are both operating 24 hours in three
shifts per day. Several agencies now operate two shifts.
We instituted mandatory overtime and suspended all
noncritical training and travel for passport staff until
We are aggressively recruiting staff. We brought 259
government and contract employees on board in the last 3
months. We plan to hire up to 800 new government employees and
750 to 800 contractors within the next year. Government
employees can adjudicate passport applications, while contract
staff perform critical support functions to print and mail out
We obtained an OPM exemption to the hiring cap for Civil
Service annuitants, so that we can bring back experienced and
well-trained retired adjudicators while we continue to recruit
and train new passport specialists. Ninety retirees are in the
pipeline to return to work in passport agencies where, in
addition to helping with the workload, they will provide
critical management support as hundreds of new employees
complete training and begin work.
Qualified State Department employees are volunteering to
help process passport applications. These volunteers supplement
the Department's corps of passport specialists and are working
two shifts during the week and all day Saturday and Sunday, to
optimize existing equipment and space resources. They have
approved over 80,000 passport applications since mid-March.
We dispatched teams of passport specialists to exceptionally
high volume passport agencies to assist with walk-in applicants
and to process pending applications. These teams also provide
customer support, including locating and expediting
applications of customers with urgent travel needs.
Response to Increased Call Volume
In response to heavy call volume, the NPIC, our call center,
increased staff to over 400 customer service representatives and
extended operating hours. I am aware that its lines are oversubscribed,
and that this has been a source of frustration to your staffs and the
general public. The number of telephone inquiries has dropped, but the
call volume remains high. Our call center has recently installed 18
additional high-capacity lines, each of which carries 24 separate
telephone lines, for a total of 432 new lines. This will increase the
volume of telephone calls NPIC can handle. We continue to work with
NPIC to improve the service.
To supplement NPIC, we established a temporary phone task force at
the Department. State Department employees are volunteering to provide
information, respond to urgent requests, and help Americans get their
passports. We also stood up a temporary call center at the Kentucky
Consular Center (KCC), staffed with approximately 100 operators,
working two shifts.
We have also established an e-mail box, [email protected], and
installed additional high-capacity lines dedicated to congressional
inquiries at NPIC, to better handle your constituent needs.
We believe the measures we have already taken will give us the
time, staffing, and physical capacity to be able to process all of the
applications that have taken longer than normal to complete. We hope to
be well on our way to returning to our normal processing times by
September 30, 2007.
addressing record demand: the longer term
As we look to the future, it is evident that implementation of the
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will bring with it a permanent
increase in the demand by U.S. citizens for an international travel
document. The record-breaking demand we see today is not an anomaly;
demand will continue to grow. We currently project the demand for
passports to be approximately 23 million in 2008, and as high as 30
million by 2010. Over 78 million Americans currently have passports--
somewhat more than 25 percent of our citizens. Americans will continue
to need secure documentation of their nationality and identity.
Additional resources will be needed. The Department sent on June 8
a formal Congressional Notification regarding plans to reprogram nearly
$37,000,000 for the FY 2007 Border Security Program. We will use the
additional funds to hire 400 new passport adjudicators this fiscal
year, and fund expansion of NPC and the Miami Passport Agency.
We are also implementing long-term strategies to ensure we have the
capacity to meet higher demand and provide Americans with passports in
a timely and secure manner. Chief among these is a new approach to
passport production represented by the Arkansas Passport Center (APC).
APC differs from our other passport agencies in that it focuses solely
on printing and shipping passports. The files of applications reviewed
and adjudicated at other agencies are transmitted electronically to
APC, which prints and ships the passports. This approach requires that
we install new software at our existing passport agencies to permit
remote passport issuance. We have installed the software at seven
agencies, and expect to complete conversion of all 17 by the end of
APC has already produced 130,000 passports using this system. As I
noted earlier, when it reaches full capacity, slated for the end of
2007, it will be able to produce up to 10 million passports annually.
The centralization of passport book personalization frees up space
and personnel at our existing passport agencies so that they can focus
on the critical areas of customer service and adjudication, and process
more passport applications. The agencies that have begun remote
issuance are already reporting significantly improved efficiency.
We are increasing capacity at existing passport agencies, as well.
Expansions are in the works for the Seattle, Miami, Boston, and
Washington agencies, and we will be acquiring additional space for the
National Passport Center to expand its operations and add redundancy to
the passport system. We hope to complete these renovations and
expansions by the end of this year.
Just as important as increased production numbers is the need to
maintain the high quality and integrity of the passport process. As we
bring on large numbers of new staff, we are making provisions to
continue to provide them with excellent training. We have secured space
to establish a Western Consular Training Center to be colocated with
our Colorado Passport Agency in Denver. With the large numbers of new
employees we expect to hire over the next 2 years and the need for
ongoing training of current employees, we need to have more than one
Mr. Chairman, the world of U.S. passport production has changed
fundamentally. The Bureau of Consular Affairs has changed with it. We
are committed to meeting the American public's demand for reliable,
secure travel documents. We are committed to achieving for our Nation
the security and efficiency benefits of WHTI. And we will continue to
work tirelessly to improve the efficiency, transparency, and integrity
of the passport process.
We appreciate the support and understanding we have gotten from you
and your staffs as we work to meet new challenges. We hear from you
regularly--and we have heard your message. We have and we must continue
to work hand in hand to resolve specific cases, but also to chart a
course for the future that will give the American public faith in our
ability to deliver. We look forward to working together with you to
achieve our shared purpose to help American citizens to travel, while
guaranteeing the security of our Nation.
I thank you for this opportunity to discuss the current situation
with regard to U.S. passports and what we are doing to meet
unprecedented demand. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.
Senator Bill Nelson. You didn't say anything about the
vendor. Do you want to share that in your remarks?
Ambassador Harty. I'm sorry, sir, about?
Senator Bill Nelson. The vendor.
Ambassador Harty. The vendor.
Senator Bill Nelson. The contractor.
Ambassador Harty. I believe you're referring to the lockbox
facility, sir. On a very regular basis, we share with our
lockbox facility partners our estimates of where numbers are
going. Frankly, we did public relations work and public
outreach to make sure that Americans knew about the
requirement, and we saw a bump-up, which initially we believed
to be simply the lead-up to January 23. It went larger than
that. And so, in January we began to realize that there was an
issue here that wasn't an anomalous blip for a short period of
And so, sir, I went there myself. I've been there a couple
of times over the course of my time in this job, but I went
there when we realized this. I found a group of people who I
have looked in the eye, who I find are committed, who I have
talked to on the phone, who I have badgered, who probably have
limited enthusiasm for taking my phone calls. I also found a
group of people who worked themselves to the bone. It, like in
the Government, isn't always as easy to get good people
identified, cleared, trained up. And the clearance is an issue,
because we are asking people--vendor, contractor for us, U.S.
Federal Government employee--to deal with people's identity
documents. We need to know that there is somebody who has a
public-trust clearance, who is somebody who we can trust to do
this work. And so, yes, they went from a 24-hour turnaround
time to something significantly greater than that. But, while
they were doing that, I literally watched them build more
space, hire more people, figure out, with us, ways we could do
this work together and differently, and they are back to that
24-hour turnaround time.
I don't think, sir, I get any style point--for pointing at
somebody else. I'm the captain of the ship.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK.
Since we have such a huge turnout here, is it all right
that we have a 5-minute round? And I'm going to call on people
in the order in which they came, regardless of party.
Madam Secretary, in your comments for the record, you
state, ``We simply did not anticipate American citizens'
willingness to comply so quickly with the new law.'' If you had
over 2 years advanced warning, and if you knew how many people
traveled to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean--
therefore, you would know how many were going to be applying to
get a passport under the new Western Hemisphere Travel
Initiative--so, how can you say that you didn't have any idea
that you were going to have all of these new applications for
Ambassador Harty. Thank you for the question, sir.
In fact, it is just simply a question of the 3-month period
of time. We predicted 16.2 million based on our study with
BearingPoint--and BearingPoint, in doing that study, talked to
Homeland Security, Commerce, travel and tourism, airlines. We
did the same things. We simply did not foresee 5.4 million
people applying in 3-months' time.
But, sir, again, I believe I mentioned that we're seeing an
incredible number of people who are indicating that they have
no travel plans. I think, in some ways, we drummed up business,
and more business than we had anticipated.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK, now----
Ambassador Harty. It was a mistake, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. I'll accept that. People would like to
have this valuable document, because you reminded them about
it. That is a valuable document. So--now you know that you're
going to have to have X number of people having a passport that
didn't have one before. You know what the number is, because
you can calculate it as to who traveled within the last 12
months to those areas that are going to require the passport.
So, why didn't they, or your vendor, or somebody, have that
anticipation of the surge?
Ambassador Harty. Sir, it was a miscalculation on the size
of the surge.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. but who miscalculated?
Ambassador Harty. I take responsibility for it, sir. We did
our best evaluation, based on a report by a company that is
trusted and well known. They appeared to do a thorough job. We
looked at our own, sort of, historic numbers. We looked at the
numbers of people who revalidate their passports. We made a
good-faith effort. We came up with 16.2. In fact, it turned out
not only to be about a million and a half higher than that, as
it appears now, but it was in a very compressed period of time.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. You accept the responsibility.
Ambassador Harty. I do, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. All right. Tell us, what are you going
to do about the 60 bucks?
Ambassador Harty. Sir, you're right that we have an
expedite process that took longer than we wanted it to, took
longer than ever we meant it to. The expedite process did, in
fact, ensure that you went to the front of that queue. Although
it took longer than we wanted it to take, expedited passports
have moved to the front of the queue all over the system. So, I
take your point about the question that you asked in your
opening remarks. And so, we will certainly look at that, and I
will report back to you--I actually need a little bit of, sort
of, help with evaluating the question that you raised earlier,
but I will----
Senator Bill Nelson. Well----
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. Look, and I will get back to
[The written information from the State Department
Due to unprecedented demand, some U.S. citizens who applied for
passports on an expedited basis by paying a $60 fee over and above the
normal passport fee, did not receive their passport in the timeframe in
which they expected to have it. After we examined several options to
determine when and if to provide refunds for certain expedited
applications, the Department determined that the most effective policy
would be to continue to have applicants apply for refunds when they
have reason to believe that they did not receive expedited service. The
State Department will then address each refund request carefully on a
As of July 18, 2007, a total of 3,829,913 expedited passport
requests have been received and acted upon in calendar year 2007; our
passport agencies and passport centers have issued 2,716,448 expedited
passports, 71 percent within 3 business days of receiving the
applications. A total of 3,286,751 passports (86 percent) were likely
to have been in customers' hands within 3 weeks of them having applied,
the period outlined on the State Department Passport Web site.
A total of 543,162 expedited passports out of 3,829,913,
approximately 14 percent, were not processed within 3 weeks. Even then,
these individuals still received expedited treatment and most had their
passports in hand by the date they specifically requested on their
application. In the face of unprecedented demand (more than 40 percent
increase over last year), those who requested expedited service did
receive priority over the millions of other Americans who applied for
passports at the same time. The expedited applications were
automatically given a higher priority in the queue; these individuals
received much faster service than the applicant who did not pay for
expedited service and whose wait climbed at one point to 12 weeks. To
further ensure expedited service, the Department has been paying for
expedited passports to be mailed via FedEx and has not, unlike past
practice, asked customers to cover this additional cost.
In reaching the conclusion to refund on a case-by-case basis, there
were several options.
The first would be to issue no refunds at all given the
unprecedented demand. This option did not merit consideration.
The second would have been to refund the fee paid by every
applicant who requested expedited passport service, regardless of how
fast the requester received the passport. We do not believe that
providing a blanket refund automatically to all applicants would be
either appropriate or equitable.
A third option is to provide refunds to applicants who did not
receive their passports by the date they requested on their
application. The Passport staff was constantly resorting and queuing
applicants in order to provide those with the greatest/earliest need,
the fastest service. Thus, while some applications were not processed
within 3 days, the passport was still received prior to the date the
A fourth option could be to have those who paid the fee and believe
they did not receive expedited service request a refund. Our Web site
already contains instructions on how to apply for a refund via e-mail.
We will review each request thoroughly and provide timely refunds to
those who meet the requirements.
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, this was handed out in your name
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. And it says you have to apply for the
Ambassador Harty. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
Senator Bill Nelson. Why----
Ambassador Harty. That is----
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. Why put that additional
burden on them?
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. That is the process we have
had in place for years, sir. We do expedite, and have done
expedite refunds for a number of years. I just flatout don't
know if there is a--I don't want to misspeak at all today--I
don't know if there is some legal requirement for somebody to
come to me before I give them money back that's gone into the
Federal Treasury. We will----
Senator Bill Nelson. Does that----
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. Look, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. Does that 60 bucks go into the
Treasury, or does it go into the State Department?
Ambassador Harty. The 60 bucks, the expedite fees, goes to
the State Department. Out of a $97 passport application, $18 of
that goes to the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Senator Bill Nelson. You know what a cynic would say. A
cynic would say that that's an additional way for you to raise
Ambassador Harty. A cynic would say it, sir. But I hope
that if I leave you with nothing else today, I leave you with a
sense that there's nothing cynical in our desire to be the best
public servants we can be.
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, think about getting that money
back to people, because they have paid for a service----
Ambassador Harty. Understood, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. They have not received,
so they shouldn't have to apply to get the money back.
All right. Senator Lugar, the ranking member and the
immediate past-chairman of this committee.
Senator Lugar. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
What is the current status of affairs today? What is the
current workload for passport offices, are they up to date?
Ambassador Harty. Sir, there is always an ample amount of
work in the system, throughout the system. Every month, for
instance, as 1.5 million go out, a certain number come in.
Right now, we've got just under 3 million passports in the
process of being adjudicated and shipped out to people. We will
send out passports every day. We will get more in every day.
So, it's just under 3 million in the system now.
We are also just entering what is historically, sort of,
the low season. And so, we are hiring an awful lot of
additional personel--hired some already, continue to hire, we
hope, 400 more before the end of this fiscal year. With us
entering the low season and us hiring more people, with our
continuing with the expanded hours, with our continuing with
the tremendous amount of overtime work that is being done, with
our hiring retired employees, with our hiring retired civil
service and Foreign Service employees, we're whacking down that
inventory, if you will, that workload in progress, just as
quickly as we can.
Senator Lugar. But in terms of emergencies----
Ambassador Harty. Oh, expedite passports----
Senator Lugar [continuing]. People with weddings and what
have you, are they getting what they need----
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. Rapidly enough to get to
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir. I think we have noticed an
extraordinary dropoff in the number of calls to our call
center, almost no e-mails on the congressional front at all to
our call center. Our office here on the Hill reports to me
today it was just a sort of a normal day, as if WHTI were not
the subject of conversation every day. We feel very confident
that, with the addition of all of the new lines at the National
Passport Information Center, that people are getting through. I
call it, myself, every day. I don't have a special number,
myself. I need to make sure it's working. It was never our
intention to make any of your staffs part of this process. But
every time that you, in fact, send us one, we work very, very
hard to make sure that happens. So, I'd certainly welcome those
continued cases of concern that you have so we can reach into
those cases and get them done as----
Senator Lugar. So, essentially, that's likely to be the
case until September or so? And now, what happens in September?
What happens then?
Ambassador Harty. With what I just described, sir, I think
that we will see us, by the end of September, get back to
approximately an 8-week turnaround--2 to 3 weeks for expedite
cases, 8 weeks for regular cases--and we will continue hiring,
training, bringing people onboard into the system, so that we
hope to get back to 6 weeks by year's end.
Senator Lugar. Now, there was some criticism the other day
from somebody in the Department of Homeland Security that said
what you're doing is a bad idea, that American security is
jeopardized by all of this. Many of us in Congress are saying,
``Now, hang on here, here, this is all one government, the
United States Government.'' My own impatience with that
particular person is profound, but let me just ask the
situation this way. Was it a good idea for the Congress to pass
such a law, to begin with, requiring all of these passports,
visas, and so forth? What is your judgment, as somebody dealing
with national security for many, many years----
Ambassador Harty. Yes.
Senator Lugar [continuing]. Through this, what--was this
Ambassador Harty. I think it's absolutely a good idea, sir.
I don't want to refer to the comments of a colleague from DHS,
but what I would like to say is that you all looked, and you
realized that it is an untenable situation when an inspector at
a port of entry can look at as many as 8--can be required to
look at as many as 8,000 different kinds of documents to judge
whether or not somebody is, in fact, a U.S. citizen. I've said
many times before that before the passage of this law, somebody
like me could take a trip to the Caribbean, and, on the
strength of my Staten Island accent and my Gold's Gym card,
talk my way back into America. And you rightly realized that
wasn't the way to do business anymore, it isn't the way to do
business anymore, that we are in a transition period now.
Where, before January 23 of this year, what I just described
was the case, and is now transitioning to a time where that
will not be the case, is, in fact, the right thing to do. I
regret that the transition has been as rocky as it has been so
Senator Lugar. Thank you.
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. Senator Coleman.
Senator Coleman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First, I want to--with all the frustration--we've had lots
of it, and we've had meetings. Ann Barrett runs passport
operations. She's been out to Minnesota, and we've had
hearings. And I think I had 1,500 cases in March of people who
are just outraged. My colleague, Senator Klobuchar, had over
1,000 cases. With that, I do want to compliment your staff,
they have been very helpful. They have--we've got passports
delivered on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and----
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir.
Senator Coleman. So, with that, great frustration.
But let me get to the frustration, and then look to the
future. I'd just--one of my frustrations is--Secretary Chertoff
came before our committee--actually, the Homeland Security
Committee that I sit upon--in mid-February, and talked about
the system being flawless. Now, your testimony is saying you
noticed things in January. At least in mid-February, Homeland
Security was telling us that the system was flawless, they--the
bottom was falling out--just about to fall out. And I expressed
my concern to the Secretary about that testimony, the
perception that we were left with, which then, let me look to
Clearly, we understand the need for security. Passports are
not the only way to secure--to ensure that there is security.
Passport cards have been talked about. Secure driver's license
is something we've talked about. In Minnesota, the--we have the
reality--we're a border State, and we have folks that go
fishing back and forth, and we have resorts. Our economies are
tied together. This passport requirement was one that was going
to have a devastating economic impact, if that was the only
path to go.
We have--many of us have been pushing for some alternative
procedures. And we've also been pushing to make sure that
whatever the procedures are, that they are--have, in fact, been
piloted and tested----
Ambassador Harty. Right.
Senator Coleman [continuing]. Before they're required. And
we--I've had legislation to that effect. And what we keep
getting is pushback--at least from Homeland Security--is
saying, ``We're going to move forward with the passport, we're
going to move forward with this requirement, understanding the
security issues and understanding there are alternative
means.'' We now look to the future, and we have land travel,
which has been indicated--we'll probably have twice the
burden--at least--perhaps up to three or four times as air
travel. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
Can you tell me what the Department is doing, in terms of
some alternative, secure ID systems that, in fact, are
affordable, that, in fact, we know will work, that will ensure
that we don't have this disaster as we move perilously close to
the next phase of this--without a lot of confidence among this
body, among my members, that the system is one that could
handle the increased volume that will occur with the land
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir. A couple of quick things.
We are ramping up to look at, from our production purposes,
23 million adjudications in the year ahead, as I detailed
earlier. That will very likely, at some point later in the
year, include a passport card. We are, in fact, in the
procurement process for a passport card right now. That card
will be wallet-sized, about half price--half the price of a
U.S. passport. And that gets to just exactly the people you
described, the family who goes to grocery shop in one country
and watch their son play soccer or their daughter play baseball
in another country. They don't really think about the border
the same way. The card in their pocket or their wallet will
help them do that.
Senator Coleman. It's hockey, in Minnesota. We----
Ambassador Harty. Hockey, in Minnesota, OK. [Laughter.]
There are other alternatives that exist right now that
perhaps haven't received the play they should--they are not my
documents, but DHS's--the NEXUS card, the SENTRI card, the FAST
card, all available now. People who use military IDs, merchant
marine cards, there are other----
Senator Coleman. But NEXUS----
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. Options available.
Senator Coleman. If I may--NEXUS and FAST, you have to have
systems in place to read those. We don't have those on the
northern border, International Falls, to do that. And
commercial travelers use that, but we've got families we're
talking about here.
Ambassador Harty. Yes. I'm just trying to put out some
other alternatives for some people, frankly, who might think
they need a passport and can do something else, if they want to
You mentioned other alternatives, and I know that it is in
the bailiwick of my colleagues at the Department of Homeland
Security, but certainly several States are looking at
a--what I have heard Secretary Chertoff describe as a WHTI-
compliant driver's license. I'm not prepared to speak about
those parameters, since that really is between Homeland
Security and the various States engaged in that process, but I
know that is an ongoing conversation that they are having.
Senator Coleman. Just one other final comment, in the last
30 seconds I have. I appreciate the expansion of your
operations, the opening of the Colorado office in 2005. We're--
in Minnesota, we've got Northwest Airlines. It's the hub
center, and their folks have to go to Chicago. I would think a
number of my colleagues would look at expanding operations in--
you know, there is something between even Chicago and Colorado,
and if we could look at that, where you have the hub centers,
it would make it a lot easier, when we have these crises, to be
able to respond more quickly.
Ambassador Harty. Certainly, we're looking at expanding,
sir, and we'll keep you well briefed on where we go, and why
Senator Coleman. Appreciate that.
Ambassador Harty. Thank you very much.
Senator Coleman. Thank you, Madam Secretary.
Ambassador Harty. Thank you.
Senator Coleman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Bill Nelson. Senator Webb.
And at the end of your questions, we will recess. There are
two votes in progress, and we should have about 11 minutes
left, right now.
Senator Webb. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And, Madam Secretary, welcome.
Ambassador Harty. Thank you.
Senator Webb. You know, the three least welcome phrases in
Washington are ``I saw that article about you on Drudge''----
Ambassador Harty. I missed that one.
Senator Webb [continuing]. ``I saw that picture on
Ambassador Harty. Yeah.
Senator Webb [continuing]. And, ``Good afternoon, Mr.
But this is really a serious problem----
Ambassador Harty. Yes.
Senator Webb [continuing]. And, you know, I compliment the
chairman on holding this hearing. We're getting hundreds of
calls in my different offices every week on this. You know the
horror stories. And, also, as you might imagine, your backlog
is feeding our backlog----
Ambassador Harty. Yes.
Senator Webb [continuing]. In different sorts of ways. I
have a memo that was sent to me from one my offices this
morning with some comments on it, and I'd like to get your
reaction. I'm not going to read the whole memo, but a couple of
One is, my assistant says, ``We're happy to assist people
with their travel plans, but we're mindful that this work is
taking precious time from folks who need help with very serious
and essential needs, such as food, veterans benefits, housing,
medical care, medications. While the hotline used by our
offices for tracking the progress of a passport is better
staffed and answered, we are increasingly receiving, as well, I
can see it's been completed, but I can't tell if it was mailed
out or sent by FedEx or waiting for a pickup. There's no
tracking number on it.'' It's a recommendation, an interesting
suggestion, from one of our staff members that, ``It's costing
untold amounts of money to send passports out at the last
minute by FedEx. Wouldn't it be wiser either to move staffing
resources to the fire or hire additional staff?''--which I
understand you are hiring additional staff.
And, finally, that--``And this is our great concern as we
look toward the--two more critical deadlines, September and
January. Do we have a plan in place to effectively manage the
volume of passport applications that we will be facing?''
And--appreciate your comments on that.
Ambassador Harty. Absolutely, sir, thank you. I couldn't
agree with you more that we would really rather have your staff
not having to deal with someone's travel plans so they could
get to a veteran or a mother or somebody who has a particular
issue, and maybe even a life-and-death circumstance. That is,
in fact, why the first call lines that were installed--the
additional call lines--were dedicated, 46 of them, to the
As the call center has increased, dramatically, the number
of people who work there--200 to 500, and on its way to 800--we
made probably--in an abundance of haste to get people on the
line, we probably didn't make sure that everybody was as
thoroughly trained as they should be. So, I've sent more people
up there, and I hired back a retired fellow who actually ran
the center, famously, not too very long ago. And so, I hope--
I'm getting some anecdotal feedback that we're actually doing a
better job on the quality of the conversations. And if we're
not, please call me, because we are--it's an indicator, it's
not a complaint; and if the indicator is I need to get
something better done, I want to get it done.
Senator Webb. What is your goal? Is it 6 weeks?
Ambassador Harty. Yes.
Senator Webb. Is that your ultimate goal?
Ambassador Harty. Yes.
Senator Webb. Even with the two additional ramp-ups?
Ambassador Harty. I'm going to get there next, sir.
Senator Webb. OK.
Ambassador Harty. You asked something about express mail
Senator Webb. Yes.
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. Of various kinds. I would
love to get to a point where I don't have to do express mail
because we're back to 6 weeks, or--we are at 2 to 3 week for
expedites right now. But, right now, I don't want somebody
missing a trip because the passport comes the day after the
flight. So, that's why we're using a lot of express mail
services, at this point. We'd like to get that gone, as well.
And, finally, do we have a plan? We are ramping up
dramatically through the end of this fiscal year, FY07. We're
also looking at hiring a considerable number of people in FY08.
I'm still working that a little bit within the State Department
itself. I don't expect any issue there. I just don't have so
many details for you right now on the budget side of it.
You mentioned January, sir. Over the next several days,
State and DHS will be announcing the proposed land border rule,
which will demonstrate that we have heard you and have heard
your constituents. As a result, that rule, as introduced, will
be very flexible. What I'd like to say about that here now is,
it's a draft rule, and we welcome your comments, and we welcome
the comments of your constituents, and we want to make the best
product that we can make.
Senator Webb. Good. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Bill Nelson. We will stand in recess. There are two
votes. There should be about 5 or 6 minutes remaining on the
first vote. I will come back right after the second vote
commences, and we will pick up with Vitter, Feingold,
Voinovich, Isakson, Murkowski, and Menendez.
Senator Bill Nelson. Good afternoon. The committee will
resume its deliberations. And, while we are waiting for the
remaining members to come and ask their questions, why don't
you share, for the record, the transfer of the responsibilities
from Mellon to Citigroup. And why wasn't Citigroup prepared?
And then, you've mentioned this other one, BearingPoint, did a
survey for you, and they missed the mark on the survey,
apparently by a huge amount. Why don't you talk, for the
record, so that we can understand where the foulups occurred
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir. With your permission,
I'll start with BearingPoint.
We, together, came up with a figure of approximately 16.2
million. BearingPoint contributed to that. BearingPoint did a
survey for us, discussing, with all of the stakeholders that
you might imagine, surveys of travelers--two separate surveys
of travelers, Commerce Department data, DHS, the travel and
tourism industry. Their survey, plus our historic experiences,
together, led us to 16.2. So, while we now believe it will be
closer to 17\1/2\, I think that we also need to share
culpability in coming up with that number. I don't want to put
that just on BearingPoint.
With respect to Citi and Mellon, you are absolutely right,
Mellon had had the contract for a number of years. Contracts
routinely have to be recompeted. It is a contract that is not
held by the Department of State, or administered by the
Department of State, although, naturally, we have an incredibly
avid interest in how that contract works. So, those two banks--
those two entities competed, and Citibank came in with a more
modern way of doing business and won that contract; again,
Treasury Department administered.
We had a transition period from Mellon to Citi, and then
Citi took off on its own, in--I believe it was October 2006.
So, the--relative newcomers to this game--and we all learned
some things out of the last several months. And we will all
continue to work together to do better at what we do. That's
our obligation and our duty.
Senator Bill Nelson. So, the Treasury Department is the
decider on who is awarded that contract?
Ambassador Harty. Treasury administers that, yes, I guess
they would be the decider. But we're sure right in there. I
mean, we obviously are the ones who know what kind of service
Senator Bill Nelson. Senator Menendez.
Senator Menendez. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you
for calling this hearing.
Madam Secretary, I----
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir.
Senator Menendez [continuing]. Appreciate your
Let me just say, as we talk about passports today, I think
it's been mentioned by other colleagues that we have to
remember this is not about a document or a piece of paper, it
is about the lives of people, and Americans. My staff, as well
as everybody else's, has been overwhelmed, in New Jersey, by
the number of requests that we've had to deal with. And, of
course, what that means is that time is taken away from other
very critical issues that they face. And because of the nature
of the timeliness of the concern, it gets shifted, and that
means that other people get put at the end of the line.
And the stories that I've heard from New Jersey include a
recent case where newlyweds had to postpone their honeymoon
because they had not received their passports. Another New
Jersey woman who just about missed her wedding because her
passport did not arrive until the day before the ceremony. And
still another one of my constituents had to drive 96 miles and
wait in line for hours in order to pick up her passport the day
before she was set to travel.
So, you know, this has massively caused an enormous
consequence to a lot of people in the disruption of their
lives; people who follow the rules, pay their hard-earned money
to receive a U.S. passport. And, while I appreciate hearing
your testimony about the statistics and how, in the first 7
months of fiscal year 2007, the State Department issued 33
percent more passports than in the previous year, the fact of
the matter is that the State Department knew--knew--that the
demand for U.S. passports would be exponentially higher than in
previous years, and they had ample time to prepare for the
work-log that would be caused by the new regulations under the
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
So, at this point, in my mind, the number of passports the
State Department has issued is not as relevant as the number of
passports they have not issued, as well as the chaos caused by
this bureaucratic mess.
And that, in the midst of the debate we are having on
immigration, where, in fact, if the underlying proposal were to
become law, we would be in the midst of having the U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services clear an estimated 4\1/2\
million immigrant applications from its current backlog, and an
employer verification system that would use a passport as one
of the key documents for employment verification. And that
means every American in the country going through such a
So, I look at all of that, and I am dramatically concerned
as to where we're headed, beyond what's happened. I do want to
say--I do want to say that I want to commend the employees at
the passport agencies who have worked overtime and under very
stressful circumstances to help reduce the backlog. And I think
everyone would agree that they have been resilient and it's not
their fault. So, I want to start there.
But in view of what's already happened, you know, do you
really believe that when September rolls along--of 2007--if
you're still facing a significant backlog, what will be your
response? And when do you expect to return to what is normal,
which is processing times for passports, 4 to 6 weeks, versus
the current 10 to 12 weeks? And if you're going to tell me that
you're going to meet that target in a relatively short order,
why are you confident that you will be able to do so?
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir.
First, I'd like to associate myself with your comments
about people's lives and how important it is that we get this
done. And I, as I think I mentioned earlier, feel very sincere
when I say that even though we have gotten so very many people
their passports, that's not good enough; we have to do them
all, and we need to do them in a timely fashion to allow people
to take the trips that they intend on taking.
With respect to the question that you just asked, I'm
watching this every day. I believe that we will get to 8 weeks
by the end of September, with expedites in 2 to 3 weeks, and
down to 6 weeks by the end of the year. We're going to keep
hiring people, we're going to keep training people. We will
identify any bump in the road, or impediment, that prevents us
from doing what I've just said. And we will continue to brief
on the Hill as often as----
Senator Menendez. In September, you believe that the
postponement to September is more than enough time to meet the
challenges that you presently have?
Ambassador Harty. I believe that by the end of September,
if we are able to hire the extra 400 that we've talked about in
the CN that's active right now, that we will have the people
onboard to be able to get the wait time down to 8 weeks----
Senator Menendez. But if----
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. On an average.
Senator Menendez. But if that ''if`` doesn't become a
reality, then you'll slip. If the ``if'' of hiring the people
that you suggest.
Ambassador Harty. That may be the case, sir, but I'm going
to spend all of the time that I have between now and then
making sure we do exactly the opposite, that we hire the
people, that we get the work out the door.
Senator Menendez. Mr. Chairman, my time has expired.
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. Senator Voinovich.
Senator Voinovich. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, I would like to say that my constituent
office has had probably the best relationship with the
Department of State that we could possibly have with any
Federal agency over----
Ambassador Harty. Thanks.
Senator Voinovich [continuing]. Over the years. So I would
not like them to feel that we are beating up on them or unhappy
with the service that they have given. The problem, as I see it
is with management, my key interest. In fact, one of the
reasons I had problems with former Ambassador Bolton during his
nomination was his management. I think that Colin Powell and
Dick Armitage did a good job paying attention to management,
making it a top priority, and improving the esprit de corps in
the State Department. I was concerned when Bob Zoellick got the
deputy job, because I felt he was not enough interested in
management. He left there, as I expected he would. I have also
talked with both John Negroponte and Condoleezza Rice about
management in the past.
So, concerning the big picture, for those people here
representing the State Department, I think somebody better
start paying attention to management, because the esprit de
corps in the State Department is very low. Many people are
retiring that probably would stick around, but they are just
throwing up their hands and leaving the place.
That being said, the question I have is--and I have heard
some of what you said--I would like to see your strategic plan
and your critical path outlining how you intend to resolve this
major passport backlog and facilitate the Western Hemisphere
Travel Initiative. I'd like to have a written copy of it. You
talked about giving citizens flexibility and allowing them to
show proof that they had made an application and given their
photograph. But a number of Ohioans who have proof of payment
for passport applications as far back as March have been
inadvertently left out of the database used for passport
processing, and thus are unable to obtain the official proof of
passport application necessary to comply with revised
So, I would like somebody to look into why these applicants
are no longer in the database, and get them in the database so
that they are taken care of.
But there's a bigger question. You are talking about the
people that are going to get passports right now for flying
back and forth. I am very active in the United States/Canadian
Inter-Parliamentary Group and I have to tell you that they are
up in arms about the requirements for traveling back and forth
across the border. Word is getting out all over the place that
one needs a passport. So, in addition to the ones that
traditionally need a passport to fly, there will be an
avalanche of people who want these passports by January 1 of
next year, because they have been told they must have it to
cross the border at all.
Now, we have passed legislation that is going to delay
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to June 2009. But out on
the street, people hear they will need a passport by January
2008, and I would like to find out whether you are anticipating
these additional people who think they will need it to get back
and forth on land, between the United States and Canada,
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir, for your question.
With respect to the people who are seeking passports to
cross the land border now, I think that we've already seen a
considerable amount of that. I think that is, in part, what
we--what part of the original bump-up has been, that people
simply, out of an abundance of caution, want to do exactly
that. And we certainly have also heard from our Canadian
counterparts the same consternation that Canadians feel that
they need to get passports for the land border right now.
We will, as I mentioned previously, over the next several
days--actually, I think maybe even tomorrow--announce the land
border rule, and that will demonstrate that we have heard the
kinds of concerns you've articulated here, and the kinds of
concerns that your constituents have mentioned to us so
vigorously, and rightly so.
As a result of hearing those concerns, that announcement
will include a flexible approach, and I would just like to
underscore, again, how sincere I am when I say that that--
that's a notice of a proposed rule that we're very interested
in comment and concern in how we can address that and how we
can make it better and how we can do this job as best----
Senator Voinovich. Let me interrupt you and say that it
would be nice, following up on the chairman's comments, if
someone would tip off Secretary Chertoff at Homeland Security,
who keeps saying the date for passport requirement must be
January 1, 2008, because that confuses people. Let us make the
message clear that the date will now be June 2009, and we are
going to get this legislation passed.
Somebody also ought to check whether the June 2009 deadline
is going to be adequate, because DHS still has to develop the
technology for REAL ID, and that is still 2 or 3 years away.
Someone has to look at this realistically----
Ambassador Harty. Understood.
Senator Voinovich [continuing]. At what you will be able to
do. And, as I have already said, I would like to have from you,
in writing, how you will handle this. I am also going to
request that Senator Akaka hold a hearing in the Oversight of
Government Management, Federal Workforce Subcommittee on
Homeland Security and what it is going to do.
Senator Voinovich. And, Mr. Chairman, last, but not least,
I want to submit letters for the record that I have sent to the
Secretary of State and Mr. Chertoff. And I expect answers to
[The above mentioned letters and a reply letter from the
State Department follow:]
Washington, DC, June 7, 2007.
Hon. Condoleezza Rice,
Secretary, U.S. Department of State,
Dear Secretary Rice: Thank you for the Department's response to my
letter of March 27 regarding my concerns with the implementation of the
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). I appreciate your
continued efforts to work closely with the Department of Homeland
Security on a plan that reflects your commitment to implement WHTI in a
manner that facilitates travel, including the timely processing and
issuance of passports, and takes into account the needs of border
communities without hampering our national security interests.
Despite your personal attention to this issue, I am of the opinion
that the State Department has lost control of the situation. My
constituents continue to face long processing delays and are
increasingly unable to keep their original travel plans. As a result,
the daily call volume of Ohioans seeking passport assistance from my
office has increased from 76 calls in all of 2006 to nearly 1,000 to
date. These statistics are not unique to my office, and will likely
continue as frustration builds and more and more travelers, who have
dutifully followed State Department guidelines and paid the requisite
fees, are prohibited from travel. I offer an example to help illustrate
the situation: Last Thursday, my office was informed that passports for
a couple were being sent express mail. Only one passport arrived in
time for their scheduled departure. In a followup call, my office was
informed that the second passport was never sent.
I do not believe the current implementation plan is realistic and
have serious concerns regarding how the Department failed to anticipate
and prepare for the increased demand. Summer travel is not a new
phenomenon. Notwithstanding the Department's use of mandatory overtime
and the hiring of additional personnel, it is clear that the existing
planning and resources are woefully inadequate.
In the short term, I ask that you work with Secretary Chertoff to
adjust your mutual policies to allow acceptance of alternate
identification documents until the larger problem can be addressed.
Given the sheer volume of American citizens who now or will shortly
require either a passport or a passport card, I further recommend that
you take a fresh look at the forthcoming regulations and land border
implementation plan being developed by the Department of Homeland
Security to ensure they represent a feasible approach.
I remain hopeful that we can develop a reasonable solution that
allows us to safeguard our borders without negatively impacting
legitimate commerce and travel.
George V. Voinovich,
Washington, DC, June 13, 2007.
Hon. Condoleezza Rice,
Secretary, U.S. Department of State,
Hon. Michael Chertoff,
Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security,
Dear Secretaries Rice and Chertoff: After numerous American
travelers missed their departure dates, through no fault of their own,
I was pleased that the administration made the right decision to make
an accommodation to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative for air
travel. Under the new guidance, it was stated that U.S. citizens
traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda (who have
applied for but not yet received passports) can temporarily enter and
depart from the United States by air with a government issued-photo
identification and official proof of their passport application.
Unfortunately, there continue to be a number of challenges and failures
in communication that prevent well-intentioned American citizens from
embarking on their planned trips. In some cases, it has caused families
to arrive at a destination, only to be turned away and sent back home.
I am writing to request your immediate attention to making sure that
our citizens have accurate and clear information about the new
requirements, and that we address the overarching problem as quickly as
I would like to share an example of the confusion that resulted in
wasted time and money for an Ohio family. On Saturday, the family of
five left the United States via air for the Turks and Caicos. The three
children had their passports in hand, and the parents, who were still
waiting after 12 weeks, had proper identification and proof of passport
application consistent with the recently released guidelines which
specifically referenced the Caribbean. Unfortunately, upon arrival in
the Turks and Caicos, the family was denied entry, and boarded a return
flight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The family mistakenly believed
that the revised WHTI guidance superseded any foreign country
requirements for entry. Once in Philadelphia, an airline representative
escorted the family to Customs and Border Patrol, where agents
indicated they were not aware of the new guidance. It is apparent that
our own citizens are still unaware that some countries will refuse
entry without proper documentation regardless of the most recent
accommodations made by the administration. It is imperative that a
clear message is sent to the public regarding what this accommodation
does and does not mean.
While the issuance of guidance provided relief to thousands of
American citizens with impending air departures, new confusion has
resulted from poor implementation of this flexibility and the
underlying challenge has not been resolved. On a related matter, it
appears that a number of Ohioans who have proof of payment for passport
application as far back as March have been inadvertently left out of
the database used for passport processing, and thus are unable to
obtain the official proof of passport application necessary to comply
with the revised guidelines. It is unacceptable to me that American
citizens who are following guidance continue to be denied entry to
countries within the Western Hemisphere.
Moreover, the massive backlog of passport applications has resulted
in unacceptable delays, costs, and cancellations extending well beyond
Western Hemisphere travel. In one case, a Cleveland-area law
enforcement official was invited by the Turkish National Police to
serve as an American Ambassador at the Istanbul Conference on Democracy
and Global Security. The individual was honored to be invited and have
the opportunity to represent our country at the international
conference. In fact, our government reached out to him to request that
he debrief them after he attended the conference. He and his wife
applied for passports in early March and were advised that they would
have their passports in plenty of time to attend the June conference.
Three weeks ago, the couple still had not received their passports.
Despite numerous attempts to contact the Passport Agency, they
received no reply to their status inquiries or expedited processing
requests. When my office was contacted about the situation on June 8,
we intervened and learned that while his passport was in process, the
Passport Agency had not even begun to process his wife's application
after 13 weeks. the only resolution to the situation would have
required 450 miles of travel from Cleveland to Chicago, at great
expense to the couple, to appear in person at the Chicago Passport
Agency. Due to this regrettable fiasco, the law enforcement official
was forced to cancel his attendance at the Istanbul Conference. In an
ironic twist, his passport arrived by FedEx yesterday morning, just
after the couple's flight had been scheduled to depart.
Consistent with my letter of June 7, I would like to know what
steps you are taking to ensure that our citizens understand the
recently released operational guidance for air travel within the
Western Hemisphere. I also look forward to additional information on
how you intend to address the need for efficient passport issuance
processes and clarification of guidelines that will need to be resolved
well in advance of the land border implementation of WHTI. Lastly, I
would like to know who is responsible for managing this situation at
your respective agencies, particularly given that the position of Under
Secretary of State for Management is vacant.
George V. Voinovich,
U.S. Department of State,
Washington, DC, July 24, 2007.
Hon. George V. Voinovich,
Dear Senator Voinovich: Thank you for your letters of June 7 and 13
regarding the delays in processing passport applications and the
implementation of the temporary measure of June 8, 2007. Please be
assured that we are working diligently to resolve the problems
associated with the unprecedented demand for passports.
As you know, all U.S. citizens arriving by air since January 23,
2007, have been required to present a valid passport when entering the
United States. The Department ramped up capacity--personnel and
physical facilities--to meet anticipated increase in demand. We are
enclosing a document summarizing the many actions we have taken to date
to meet the growth in passport demand. Nevertheless, we are aware that
some travelers have not been able to obtain passports before their
planned travel because of longer processing times cause by record-
setting demand. We are working with our partners at other agencies,
congressional offices, and the travel industry to assist travelers who
have applied for passports in a timely manner, while still being
mindful of our Nation's border security goals.
On June 8, we announced, together with the Department of Homeland
Security, that U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean
and Bermuda who have applied for but not yet received passports can
temporarily enter and depart the United States by air with a
government-issued photo identification and an official proof of
application from the U.S. Department of State through September 30,
2007. Children under the age of 16 traveling with their parents or
legal guardian will be permitted to travel with the child's proof of
application. Children 16 and under traveling alone should carry a copy
of their birth certificate, baptismal record, or a hospital record of
birth in the United States as well as the proof of passport application
status. Travelers who have not applied for a passport should not expect
to be accommodated. U.S. citizens with pending passport applications
can obtain proof of application at: http://travel.state.gov.
This accommodation does not affect entry requirements to other
countries. Americans traveling to a country that requires passports
must still present those documents. Travelers should contact the
embassy of the country they are visiting. Contact information is
available on the Consular Bureau's Web site, http://travel.state.gov.
Travelers may also contact their airline to verify the documents
passengers need to board a flight to the country they are visiting.
The joint State-DHS announcement has had a significant impact.
Since June 8, hundreds of thousands of users have accessed the Internet
site from which proof of a pending passport application can be
obtained. We will, of course, process to completion all applications on
hand; but the flexible transition period will allow us to get first to
many of those applications where people actually need passports in
order to travel. We will continue to work hard to meet the tremendous
challenges of this unprecedented passport demand--our goal is to ensure
that American citizens have the documents they need for their travel
We recognize that when we implemented this temporary measure to
accommodate the traveling public, we still needed to consult with air
carriers and destination countries within the Western Hemisphere.
Working diligently with host governments in the Caribbean, Mexico, and
Canada, and with the Air Transport Association (ATA) and the
International Air Transport Association, we were able to update the
foreign entry requirements in their database systems. We took this
unusual step in order to provide relief as soon as possible to the
traveling public, and we regret that there was some initial confusion
and that some travelers were returned to the U.S.
We hope this information is helpful in addressing your concerns.
Please feel free to contact us further on this or any matter of concern
Jeffrey T. Bergner,
Washington, DC, June 13, 2007.
Hon. Daniel K. Akaka,
Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Committee
on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Hart Senate
Office Building, Washington, DC.
Dear Chairman Akaka: I am writing to express my interest in holding
a subcommittee hearing to examine the capacity of federal agencies to
meet the demand of American citizens needing identification documents
in order to comply with recently enacted laws such as the Western
Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and the REAL ID Act of 2005.
Although these laws represent critical elements of our comprehensive
efforts to improve homeland security, they place a heavy demand on
agencies to develop the infrastructure and human capital necessary to
meet the various deadlines for compliance. Based on recent events,
question whether agencies are equipped to meet this burden.
Last Thursday, the Departments of Homeland Security and State made
the right decision to temporarily suspend the passport requirements for
air travel by American citizens under the Western Hemisphere Travel
Initiative until September 30, because the State Department was unable
to meet the spiraling demand for passports. I remain disturbed that the
Department of State failed to anticipate and plan for the demand,
despite enactment of the requirement for a more secure Western
Hemisphere in 2004. Thousands of American families were forced to
cancel their long-anticipated trips before the change in policy was
announced, despite having dutifully followed State Department
guidelines and paid the requisite fees to obtain passports. The
Department of Homeland Security expected to release its regulations for
WHTI land border implementation within 2 weeks. With the anticipated
deadline for land and sea border compliance approximately 6 months from
now, I believe the State Department will find itself in a similar
situation unless significant management improvements are made.
During our March 26 hearing to examine the implementation of the
REAL ID Act of 2005, I suggested that we invite some of our witnesses,
including the Department of Homeland Security, to report to the
subcommittee on their progress in developing the requirements and
infrastructure necessary for States to issue secure drivers' licenses
in less than 11 months. Our government's failure of last week, current
preparations for REAL ID, and the looming deadline for WHTI land border
compliance raise new questions in my mind about whether or not our
agencies have completed the planning necessary to meet the demand for
the efficient processing of secure identification documents required by
our homeland security laws.
You and I understand the link between good management and
operational success. Agencies' ability to meet the current and future
challenge of providing well-meaning American citizens with the
identification documents necessary to move freely within and across our
borders requires greater management focus in the near term.
Accordingly, I encourage you to hold a hearing to help ensure our
agencies are instituting the policies necessary to meet the
unprecedented demand for government-issued identification documents
between now and 2013. As ranking member, I believe it is our
responsibility to help ensure agencies develop plans that help
facilitate legitimate commerce and travel, including the timely
processing and issuance of passports and inquiries for secure drivers'
licenses, without hampering our national security interests.
I look forward to your response.
George V. Voinovich,
Ranking Member, Subcommittee On
Oversight of Government Management.
Senator Voinovich. Thank you very much.
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Chairman, may I just answer the Senator's other
question about the Ohioans that are not in the database?
When we first did this, we found that there were several
cases like that. Not a lot. And I'm sorry if they were your
constituents. I'm sorry it happened to anyone. But we did make
some fixes very quickly. With your permission, we'll call your
office and find out who those people are, so we can make sure
we serve them.
Senator Voinovich. I'd appreciate that.
Ambassador Harty. OK.
Senator Voinovich. Thank you.
Ambassador Harty. Thank you.
Senator Bill Nelson. Senator Feingold.
Senator Feingold. Mr. Chairman, first of all, let me thank
you for your great leadership on this. This is a very important
And, Assistant Secretary Harty, thank you for appearing
before the committee today. This backlog, as I'm sure you've
heard from everybody, has affected many of my constituents in
Wisconsin, and my staff has worked incredibly long hours
without complaint to try to deal with it, and they have tried
to make it clear to me just how significant the problem is.
I want to extend my thanks, also----
Ambassador Harty. Thank you.
Senator Feingold [continuing]. In addition to you, to the
employees of your agency who have been working very long hours
as a result of the passport backlog. I appreciate their efforts
Now, under these temporary regulations, Americans must
produce proof of a pending passport application to travel by
air to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.
According to caseworkers in my State offices, individuals must
have their passport application locator number as proof of a
pending passport application. I understand from my State
offices that many Wisconsinites have become frustrated that no
locator number is assigned to applications in the initial phase
of processing at the lockbox facility. As a result, when a
passport application is delayed in this initial phase of
processing, it is, I'm told, virtually impossible for an
individual to present the required proof of a pending passport
application. This is a problem that is affecting many people in
my State. Is this specific to Wisconsin, or is it a national
problem? And what steps are being taken to address it?
Ambassador Harty. I very much appreciate that question,
sir, because it gives me a chance to explain again what we try
to say so many times. When we introduced this on June 8, we did
several things at once. One of them was, we started sending
folks a postcard, so somebody who applies for a passport now
gets a postcard, and it says, ``Thank you for applying for a
passport. We received your application. It's being processed.
If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and
Bermuda, and need verifiable evidence that you've applied for a
passport, here's how you do it. You go to our Web site.'' So,
this passport is going to John Q. Citizen now as they apply
for--this postcard is going--now as they apply. I wish I had
thought of it sooner.
When you go to travel.state.gov, this is the home page.
This is the very first page you see. And in the upper right-
hand corner there are four, sort of, little icons you can
click. The second one of those says, ``Click here for proof of
passport application.'' So, you do that. We ask you to put in
your name, your date and place of birth, and your Social
Security number. And this page pops up, the U.S. Passport
Application Status page. That's what you need. That's the page
you print. And that proves that you've got what you need.
So, we were concerned--travel.state.gov is a great Web
site. Lots of people use it. It got 219 million page views last
year. But nobody was born knowing that that Web site exists.
That's why we invented the postcard option, to make sure that
we're reaching out to everybody who has said to us--``You've
got an application, we want to help you get there.'' And, while
not everybody's as computer savvy as they might be, with this
postcard in hand everybody's got a nephew or a niece who can do
it for them, if they can't.
Senator Feingold. Another concern I've heard from people in
Wisconsin has to do with maintaining the integrity of the
security review and vetting process for passport applications.
My caseworkers have experienced situations in which passports
have been mailed to incorrect addresses in other States. In an
effort to reduce the backlog as quickly as possible, what is
the State Department doing to ensure that all applications are
fully and appropriately vetted?
And are you concerned about an increase in passport fraud
as a result of this backlog?
Ambassador Harty. Every single passport, before it leaves
our hands, goes through what we call a quality control check.
And so, I regret that any one of them ever goes to an address
that it should not go to. It doesn't even make me comfortable
to say that when you do 1.5 million anything's--you might make
a mistake from time to time, because I wouldn't want to be the
one who had the mistake made about them. So, we work very hard
to make sure that it doesn't happen, sir, and work very hard to
make sure that we ameliorate that situation just as quickly as
we can if it does.
With respect to your other question, about a half percent
of applications are regularly referred from our adjudicators,
from our passport specialists, to fraud prevention managers who
look at them and drill down further into those applications.
Those that are then found to be suspicious or not what they
appear to be are referred to our colleagues in the Bureau of
Diplomatic Security for further investigation. We have not seen
that number go up appreciatively during this time, it's just
about the same ratio that it has always been. So, the real
Senator Feingold. So, is there any need or plans to make
changes to the security review or adjudication process, in
light of the passport backlog?
Ambassador Harty. No, sir; I don't think that we can, or
should, cut corners on the actual adjudication. We really do
need to make sure we know who's getting a U.S. passport.
Senator Feingold. So, what--I was asking whether you need
to do things to make it stronger.
Ambassador Harty. Oh. Well, I'm hiring more people, and
most of those people are going to be passport specialists,
adjudicators, but a bunch of them are also going to be in our
fraud prevention program so that we can make ourselves more
accessible to all of the passport specialists and adjudicators,
but, also, we're going to do a little bit more with the
passport acceptance facilities, the over-9,000 offices across
the country--post offices, clerks of court--who actually accept
passport applications for us. We want to plus-up our ability to
do more training with them, because that's a point where we
think we could use that kind of extra attention.
Senator Feingold. Do you have any estimates of how many
passports have been misprinted or delivered to wrong addresses?
Ambassador Harty. I don't, sir. I can try and get that for
Senator Feingold. Thank you, I'd appreciate that.
And I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ambassador Harty. Thank you, sir.
[The written information from the State Department
In FY07 to date, less than 1 percent of passports issued were
returned for error correction. Passport errors include data entry
errors, switched photos, and passports mailed to an incorrect address.
Senator Bill Nelson. Let's get into some specific numbers,
for the record.
What were the projections for passport demand following the
enactment of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative?
Ambassador Harty. Passport demand projection for FY05 was
Senator Bill Nelson. And----
Ambassador Harty. The actual was 10,412,146.
Senator Bill Nelson. The question is, the Western
Hemisphere Travel Initiative----
Ambassador Harty. FY06, then, was--because 12 million--
well, yeah, just a little over 12 million, and the actual that
year was 12,333,000. FY07----
Senator Bill Nelson. That's total.
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir. FY0-----
Senator Bill Nelson. That's total. What about the Western
Ambassador Harty. Oh, I'm sorry, excuse me. I'm going to
have to get you those numbers.
That's total, and I don't have the specific breakdown. It's
inexplicable to me, sir, but I don't have it with me. I
Senator Bill Nelson. Does any of your staff back there have
Ambassador Harty. I don't know. Do you have----
Senator Bill Nelson. I mean, if that's the main reason for
Ambassador Harty. For WHTI, yeah.
Sir, I'm going to have to pull it for you out of the
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, if that's the main reason for
the breakdown, other than just people wanting a new passport--
Ambassador Harty. I think, certainly a significant part of
it is, sir, but I don't think that's all of it. I genuinely
believe, based on what I see in passport applications, that a
significant number of American citizens are applying for U.S.
passports because they believe this to be a useful document to
them, whether it's to prove that they are American citizens--
perhaps they're naturalized and just have become American
citizens--or it is to prove that they're American citizens to
qualify for a Federal benefit, or it is simply an easy document
to use to board a common conveyance, mostly an airplane, even
if they're not traveling internationally. We have created a
large demand for the passport because of its utility in a
number of situations. That is certainly not all of it, by a
But I'll get you the numbers that you asked for, sir. I
regret I didn't bring them with me.
Senator Bill Nelson. But the Western Hemisphere Initiative
was the new requirement. You knew you had to have a passport
for somebody that didn't have it before.
Ambassador Harty. That's right, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. So, I'd like to have that number.
Ambassador Harty. I'm going to have to take that question,
sir, and get that for you.
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, it's hard for us to judge if we
don't know. I mean, if it's the large part of the increase,
that's one thing, if it's a de minimis part of the overall
increase, that's another thing. So, how can we, at this
hearing, make judgements without knowing that number?
Ambassador Harty. I apologize for not having that number
for you, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. Since 2005, what measures did you take
to expand facilities and hire additional personnel to deal with
the anticipated increase?
Ambassador Harty. Since 2005, on personnel, sir, total
passport employees hired in FY05 was 441; in FY06, 925; in
FY07, 1,222. On expansion of facilities--Houston, Chicago,
Boston, Seattle, Miami--were all increased. Miami will be
increased in a significant way. I've already walked the space.
And we're moving it from where it currently is to another
building, another part of town, and it will go from 18,000
square feet currently to 28,000 square feet. I have also--we
have also built the Denver Passport Agency in this timeframe.
We also built the Arkansas Passport Processing Center that we
just opened, cut the ribbon on, last week, although it's been
in process--it's been working for about 6 weeks, and they've
already cranked out about 150,000 passports. We also are
expanding the National Passport Center, and GSA is working with
us on a fast-track approach to build--we've got a big building
there, it's been our flagship for a long time; we are looking
for another building, because we need about 100,000 square feet
up there, and that's what we're looking for now.
Senator Bill Nelson. Before I get into 2007, why don't you
have a member of your staff step outside with their cell phone
and see if they can get that number, from the office, that I
asked for, which is: How much of the new passport applications
are attributable to the requirement of the new passports in the
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative?
OK. Now, on 2007, you said that you've hired about 1,000
additional people in 2007.
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. And you also have a request to hire an
additional 400 in 2007?
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir; that's the subject of the CN.
Senator Bill Nelson. What is ``CN''?
Ambassador Harty. Congressional notification, that we're
going to spend about $40 million to expand Miami, to expand the
National Passport Center, to hire 400 additional employees.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. And you're also anticipating to
hire another 400 in 2008?
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. And it's only now that you've
discovered that the volume is such that you're going to have to
have all these additional people. That's 1,000, plus 400, plus
another 400--that's 1,800 just since January of this year.
Ambassador Harty. The numbers that we hire each year also
take into account a significant amount of attrition. This is
government employees, as well as contract employees. So, we
give you that number to give you a sense of exactly how many
new people we've brought onboard, but in some cases it wasn't a
new position, it was that somebody had left the job. Matter of
fact, on the contractor side, we have a very regular turnover
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, what is the attrition rate in
Ambassador Harty. On the contractor side, my folks tell me
that it is about three to one. I mean, we turn people over
very, very quickly on the contractor side, not on the passport
Senator Bill Nelson. What does ``three to one'' mean?
Ambassador Harty. Well, the turnover is so quick that, as
we look at, in any given year, how many people we're going to
hire, we see just about--you know, just about, I guess, a third
of those turning over every year. And, in fact, in some of
those cases, if not many of those cases, we're bringing them on
full-time to the government side of the house. They have
learned the business, we have openings, and they are often
quite competitive to come on in and adjudicate and become
passport specialists, because they have been a part of the
nongovernmental side of the house before that. So, there is a
constant hiring process going on, even before WHTI, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. So, for the contractors, you're
saying, for every three people hired, one person leaves.
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir; I believe that--I believe I
have understood that correctly from my people, and if I'm
wrong, I'll correct it for you.
Senator Bill Nelson. And what is the attrition with regard
to the people who you are hiring now, and have hired in the
last several months?
Ambassador Harty. I'm going to have to get that for you,
Senator Bill Nelson. Is it less than for contractors? Is it
more than for contractors?
Ambassador Harty. Oh, I'm sorry, on the governmental side?
No, I don't have a hard number for you, sir, but attrition on
the full-time government employee side is not very high. That
has not been of significant issue for us.
[The written information from the State Department
The attrition rate among contract employees involved in passport
processing is about 40 percent annually. The attrition rate among full-
time government employees has averaged roughtly 7 percent for the last
2 fiscal years (7.14 percent for FY 2007; 6.95 percent for FY 2006).
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, in November, you knew that you
had received 250,000 more applications than you had originally
projected. That's in November 2006. Then, in January, the
problem grew to another 600,000 above your estimates. So,
knowing that, why did it take the Department so long to act?
Ambassador Harty. In the month of January, and even
actually in the month of December, we had begun advertising the
fact of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. And so, we
initially, and erroneously, believed that the bump-up in
January, in that period actually, was because we had made
people aware of the requirement. We didn't realize right away,
sir, that it was going to continue at those significant high
levels. And now, as I have previously testified, it certainly
seems clear that it is a changed world, that this is going to
be a sustained and increasing demand for U.S. passports, for
all of the reasons we've cited, not just Western Hemisphere
Senator Bill Nelson. After January, when did you hire the
first additional people?
Ambassador Harty. Oh, we've been hiring people nonstop,
Senator Bill Nelson. When did they first start? When did
you first start hiring new ones?
Ambassador Harty. I think it's fair to say, sir, that every
month we're hiring people. We are constantly in a hiring
Senator Bill Nelson. Yeah, but that's not the question.
Ambassador Harty. Yeah.
Senator Bill Nelson. The question is: When you saw that you
had more applications than you originally projected--you first
saw that--250,000 more in November, and then, in January, you
saw, again, that you had more than 600,000 applications above
your estimates, when did you start hiring additional staff?
Ambassador Harty. Sir, I have year-by-year, I don't have
month-by-month with me, but I can assure you we've been hiring
people every month--2006 and into 2007.
Senator Bill Nelson. Yeah, but that doesn't help me
understand the situation of why you waited so long. I need to
know, and this committee needs to know: When did you start
responding to the fact that you had more applications than you
had? Now, get your staff member's note, and see if that'll
refresh your memory.
Ambassador Harty. I actually thought I had the worst
handwriting in the world, sir, but I need a moment. I----
Senator Bill Nelson. OK.
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. I don't understand this.
Senator Bill Nelson. Take your time.
Ambassador Harty. They're reminding me, sir, of an
additional thing that we did, but I'm not certain of the date.
We went to OPM because we had two issues. One was, it does take
a little while to identify people, bring them onboard, train
them, clear them, and all of those things. But two categories
of people that we were very interested in, because, in many
cases, the training issue would be much less, and also the
security issue would very likely be much less, and those were
WAEs, retired Foreign Service officers who had done this work
before, and civil service. And we went to OPM--this note says,
actually, March, but I'm not sure, and I apologize, sir, I will
have to get back to you.
I think it might even have been February--where we asked to
have OPM give us, sort of, a lifting of the cap in their
restrictions on hiring back retired passport employees, because
what we tried to do--I want the new folks, you bet I do, but if
I can hire back some retired passport employees who already
know the business--there's a sort of a disincentive in the
Government to do that for people to come back who have retired
on the civil service side. But we got an exception. We got an
exception for 100 or 150 people. I'm not sure, sir, when that
is, but I will find it out and give it back to your staff.
I apologize for not anticipating this line of questioning.
Senator Bill Nelson. Who do you have to ask to get that
exception so that you can hire those additional people? Who did
Ambassador Harty. Under Secretary----
Senator Bill Nelson. In March.
Ambassador Harty. Under Secretary Fore called OPM. I don't
know the name of the person she spoke with, but I will find it
out for you.
[The written information from the State Department
Linda Springer, Director of OPM, approved the request to waive the
salary offset and reemploy annuitants in a memo to Under Secretary Fore
on March 30.
Senator Bill Nelson. Did you bring this problem to the
attention of the Secretary of State?
Ambassador Harty. The Secretary was aware of the things
that we were doing, yes.
Senator Bill Nelson. That's not my question. Did you bring
this to the attention of the Secretary of State?
Ambassador Harty. Which part of the issue, sir?
Senator Bill Nelson. The fact that you're way behind the
eight ball on hiring people for the amount of new applications
that you're receiving.
Ambassador Harty. I have sent several memos to the
Secretary, sir. I don't know if I specifically mentioned the
hiring issue. It would be normal for me to go to the Under
Secretary for Management.
Senator Bill Nelson. Ok, let's assume the note that was
just passed to you is correct, March. So, you knew, in--you
knew, in November, there were 250,000 more applications. You
knew, in January, that there were 600,000 more applications.
Would it not occur to a manager that we're going to need some
more work done, and people? So, why wait 'til March?
Ambassador Harty. Sir, we were hiring in November, in
December, in January. The idea about retirees, I think was a
good idea, we just didn't think of it right away.
Senator Bill Nelson. Didn't think of it right away. And you
thought that this was a false--did you say, earlier, that you
thought this was a false bump-up and that it was going to
settle back down?
Ambassador Harty. We thought it was a bump-up in response
to the public outreach we and Homeland Security had done to see
people comply with the January 23 deadline.
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, let's talk about the vendor.
When did State first realize there was a backlog of
applications at the lockbox operation?
Ambassador Harty. Mid-January, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. And what measures were taken by State
and Treasury in response to that?
Ambassador Harty. Lots of conversations, lots of people
from passport services going up there. I, myself, went. I went
with somebody from Treasury in very, very, very regular
monitoring of: How are we going to get this back to the normal
Senator Bill Nelson. In your opinion, has the contractor
Ambassador Harty. They are now, sir. I think that together
we were impressed with the seriousness of the situation, and we
addressed it. I would, of course, prefer that this never had
happened this way, but they are--they really did put the pedal
to the metal, sir, to ramp up and to address the concerns that
they saw, and that we addressed with them.
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, you just testified that January
was when you found that there was a problem in the lockbox, and
it is now 5\1/2\ months later that you're saying they're really
Ambassador Harty. No, sir. They're--excuse me--but they're
back to 24-hour turnaround.
Senator Bill Nelson. Ok. So, your answer to the question,
then, ``Has the contractor performed adequately?'' is ``yes''
or ``no'' or ``maybe''?
Ambassador Harty. I don't mean to be difficult, sir, but
they--when addressed--when we addressed their performance
issues, they rectified them.
Senator Bill Nelson. Within what period of time?
Ambassador Harty. By mid-May they were back to 24-hour
Senator Bill Nelson. Is that good enough for government
work, since you're the accountable figure?
Ambassador Harty. Sir, it's not a phrase I ever use. ``Good
enough for government work,'' in my--the way I----
Senator Bill Nelson. Is that good enough for your
Ambassador Harty. I would have liked it to have been
Senator Bill Nelson. Is there a penalty, then, under the
Ambassador Harty. I will have to explore that with the
Treasury Department. It's not my contract, and I apologize, but
I don't know the answer to that question.
Senator Bill Nelson. When do you expect to clear the
backlog of pending applications--there are some 2 million
Ambassador Harty. There's actually just under 3 million
applications in the system, sir. We expect, given the hiring
we're going to do and the things I've described today, that, by
the end of September, we will get to 8 weeks, and, by the end
of the year, back to 6 weeks. We will brief you if that is not
the case. It is certainly my intention to do everything we can
to get there and to make sure that the Web site is as regularly
updated as possible to make sure that Americans know what to
expect. The service standard and transparency there is an
important thing that we need to make sure we get it right.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. And ``the end of September,''
translate that into numbers for me.
Ambassador Harty. I'm sorry, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. There's 3 million now. So, at the end
of September, you're going to have how many millions still
pending, that you get it down to 8 weeks, and, at the end of
the year, you're going to get it down to 6 weeks. And so, how
many millions are still pending at that point?
Ambassador Harty. When we are back down to--at the end of
September, we'll have about 2 million churning through the
system, but it's--it's the volume, sir, it's not--you know, a--
Senator Bill Nelson. Yes, I----
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. passport comes in----
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. I understand.
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. Today and goes out tomorrow.
You know, they're----
Senator Bill Nelson. I understand. It's the volume. But
it's 2 million applications that have to be handled.
Ambassador Harty. That's right.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK?
Ambassador Harty. That's right, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. And by the end of the year, how many
will it be?
Ambassador Harty. It's an estimate, sir, somewhere between
a million and a million and a half.
Senator Bill Nelson. All right. And why are you confident
that--in your testimony today, that you'll be able to meet that
Ambassador Harty. We have looked at the traditional, sort
of, seasonal flow of passport applications, and we have--
although it's all higher, if you were to chart it out on a
graph, it is also following a historic pattern, so we are
entering the slower season for passport applications just at
the same time that we are ramping up, as we have described this
afternoon. And so, that combination of those two things is
going to allow us to begin to take a bigger chunk out of the
work in progress that we've got now. And we are--I am
monitoring that, sir, on a daily basis. Every morning, at 9:30,
we do this.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. You have told us that you're
trying to get the word out with regard to the new travel
requirements up to September the 30th for the Western
Hemisphere Initiative. What measures are you taking to
prioritize other passport applications for citizens that are
traveling to other countries outside of the Western Hemisphere
Ambassador Harty. A couple of things, sir. First, the
passport application has a space where you tell us when you're
traveling and where you're going. And so, we've asked--we're
working with Citibank to try and make sure that we can
reprioritize it a different way so we can get the work in and
identify that which has to get out more quickly than others.
Also, at each of our agencies, we've got people doing that
same thing, pulling application--it's laborious, it's not a
situation that we want to be in, it's just a situation that
we've got to spend the time on to make sure we reach in and
identify as many of those applications on an agency-by-agency
basis as possible. I've sent dozens of people to our National
Passport Center, for instance, just, in fact, to go through
files to find applications to move things more quickly. Of
course, on the expedite side, although we've been through a
little bit of that today, we are also moving expedites to the
front of the line at every possible turn. If somebody hasn't
identified on the envelop that it is an expedite, we're also
asking that our Citibank colleagues, sort of, identify that and
move that to the front of the line for us.
We are, of course, also receiving phone calls, ourselves,
and the National Passport Information Center is able to receive
a lot more of those phone calls now, because they've put in all
of those lines.
And so, we are working with people as they call us. We're
also pulling cases out of the system. It's not the best way to
do business. It is the situation we are in, and it's why we
want to get out of it as quickly as we can so that we can get
back to a more standard approach to doing the work that we do.
Senator Bill Nelson. And, come September 30, what is going
to be your adjustment on the Western Hemisphere Travel
Initiative, since you've suspended the requirement for a
passport up through--this is for air travel only--for----
Ambassador Harty. To countries within the affected area,
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. Those four areas that we
Ambassador Harty. Uh-huh.
Senator Bill Nelson. So, come September 30, now they have
to have a passport. So, how are you going to handle all of
Ambassador Harty. It is a transition phase. I don't want to
speak for DHS just yet. We will, together, work through making
sure people understand what the requirement is, do the public
diplomacy work, assess this, and make sure this has worked. I
would like to keep open the possibility that--well, I've got to
work with DHS and see what exactly they are going to do on
October 1, and make sure the public understands that.
By that time, sir, I fully expect to have an additional 400
bodies onboard, and that will help us continue to crank the
Senator Bill Nelson. Do you expect that you will delay the
implementation past September 30?
Ambassador Harty. It's not our expectation at this time,
sir, but I certainly will keep an open mind on that subject.
Senator Bill Nelson. Much to the chagrin of Secretary
Ambassador Harty. We will certainly have a consultation
about it, sir, if that is required.
Senator Bill Nelson. All right. I think your people have
the answer, back there, to the question that I had asked.
Senator Bill Nelson. Do you want to just have your staff
Ambassador Harty. That would do terrible things for
retention, sir. [Laughter.]
I'd prefer to do it myself. I will invite her, if I
misspeak, to correct me--the initial projections were, in FY05,
just under a million; in FY06----
Senator Bill Nelson. This was for Western Hemisphere Travel
Ambassador Harty. Right.
Senator Bill Nelson. A million in 2005.
Ambassador Harty. Point-nine. Nine--point-nine. In 2006,
1.8. And, originally, in 2007, 4 million; revised, given what
we now have seen happen, to 6.5.
But what I was failing to understand for a minute there
was--these are, of course, projections--we don't ask people to
tell us where they go or how often they will travel, and we
don't exactly know whether or not these numbers bear fruit or
whether--and it's the same thing I've mentioned earlier, though
from a different angle, that the--what we also did not know was
how many people would choose to apply for a passport just to
have the document, with----
Senator Bill Nelson. Yes.
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. No travel intentions.
Senator Bill Nelson. Yes, I understand that. You've made
that quite clear.
So, in 2005, you estimated that 900,000 people would apply
for a passport due to the Western Hemisphere Initiative that
otherwise had not had one.
Ambassador Harty. Yes.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. How many did?
Ambassador Harty. That's the part we don't track, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. You don't know that.
Ambassador Harty. No, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. And, in 2006, you estimated that
1.8 million new people would apply for a passport that
otherwise didn't have one, because they were just traveling
within that Western Hemisphere area.
Ambassador Harty. Right.
Senator Bill Nelson. And then, in 2007, you said 4 million
new people, and you've revised that up to 6.5.
Ambassador Harty. That's right, sir. Now----
Senator Bill Nelson. And the overall application of
passports, you said earlier in your testimony, is somewhere
around 12 million?
Ambassador Harty. 12.1 million in 2006. This year, we
expect a little over 17 million.
Senator Bill Nelson. 17 million.
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. Of which 6\1/2\ million of the 17
million are, in fact, new required passports as a result of
Ambassador Harty. An estimate, sir, but yes.
Senator Bill Nelson. And when was that projection
originally made, for 4 million in 2007--for 2007? When did you
make that projection?
Ambassador Harty. 2005 study, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. Well, you knew it was coming down
the road, that you were going to have a lot of new ones.
For the record, in the 2008 budget request, what has been
requested to address this expected new demand----
Ambassador Harty. The 2008 budget request----
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. For the Western
Ambassador Harty. Right. The 2008 budget request falls
short, in that we requested 75 positions, but we are, of
course, now in conversation with the Department about another
400, so we're looking at 400 for FY07 fourth quarter, and
another 400 in 2008 first quarter.
Senator Bill Nelson. OKay. Now, share with the committee,
on the $60 expedited fee, how you're going to go back--about
determining if you are going to return all of those fees, or,
if you're going to determine that you're not going to return
all of them, how are you going to determine what was, in fact,
expedited and what was not? What are your parameters?
Ambassador Harty. Previously today, sir, I said I didn't
want to misspeak on this subject. I have--we have had, for many
years, a system in place for people to request a refund of
their expedite fee. I don't know what is legally required
before the Government can cut a check back. I will find out,
and I will report that back to you, sir.
I just know that I need help from our legal division on
Senator Bill Nelson. The $97 application goes into the
Treasury, is that correct?
Ambassador Harty. Most of it, sir. The $97 includes the
passport, the fee that is charged by the acceptance facility,
as well as--well, the fee that is for the passport itself. The
passport fee goes to the general treasury. If there is an
expedite fee, that goes to the Department of State. Several
years ago, we managed to--and the Congress gave us a passport
surcharge fee, which is $18, and that comes to us, in the
Bureau of Consular Affairs, to do what we do, with respect to
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. So, if the $60 expedite fee goes
into the Department of State, would you not think that the
Department of State has the authority, when a person, in fact,
has not received the service of expediting their passport, that
the Department of State has the authority to return that $60?
Ambassador Harty. Since we have a program that does do
that, sir, yes, I do think that.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK.
Ambassador Harty. How--the mechanics of it are what I am
loathe to comment on without----
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. What we want to find out is: What
is going to be your criteria for what has been expedited and
what has not, so those people get their 60 bucks back?
Ambassador Harty. We have traditionally told people 2 to 3
weeks for an expedite, sir. So, many, many, many people have
gotten that--have gotten their passports expedited, so there
will be people who don't need that service, or who have--who,
in fact, paid for the service and got the service. So, we will
do a review of how many cases where that's not the case.
Senator Bill Nelson. Is it present policy that you just
said that you consider an expedited passport 2 to 3 weeks?
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. Is it logical for this committee
to assume that, therefore, anyone with--who has not received
their passport within that 2-to-3-week present policy of
expediting will get their $60 back?
Ambassador Harty. The policy discusses how long we have the
passport actually in our hands, as opposed to in the lockbox or
before the clerk of court mailed it to the lockbox, and so, in
the parameters that you are describing, there's a little bit of
leeway there, sir. I will work with our attorneys on this, as
well, and come up with a policy.
Senator Bill Nelson. Well, I think it's important that you
come back and enunciate that policy to us, because everyone
that was up here, their constituents are going to be calling
them when they don't get their $60 back, and they're going to
say, ``I didn't get my passport until 3 months later, and
they're still keeping my 60 bucks.''
Ambassador Harty. Right.
Senator Bill Nelson. And when you come back and share with
us your new policy, would you also tell us whether or not
you're going to require people to ask for a refund or if you
are going to do that on your own without them having to do
Ambassador Harty. Yes, sir; I will do those things.
Senator Bill Nelson. Do you think that, having gotten
through the seasonal application bump, that we are going to see
a decrease of applications?
Ambassador Harty. Historically, that has been the case,
sir. Yes; we do. We will watch this, as I have mentioned, every
day to see if that is, or is not, the case.
Senator Bill Nelson. There certainly appears to be plenty
of evidence that it won't lessen, on the basis of everything
that's been said here in the hearing.
Ambassador Harty. The numbers are absolutely higher, but
the pattern of when people apply seems to be holding consistent
with previous years.
Senator Bill Nelson. But certainly not when you overlay the
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, and when you overlay what
you said, that suddenly people want this prized possession of a
passport as a means of identification.
Ambassador Harty. That's why, in fact, sir, while our
prediction, which, of course, is subject to the results of the
study we're doing now, that's due out later this summer, our
prediction is for 23 million next year. My desire is to staff
for 26 million.
Senator Bill Nelson. OK. Thank you. I'm sorry that you have
to have these pointed questions.
Ambassador Harty. No, no, sir. That's my job.
Senator Bill Nelson. I understand that you think it's your
job, but it's also your boss's job, too, to make sure that
Americans don't get this riled up.
As I went over to vote, I had a number of Senators come up
to me who were aware of this hearing. Some of them, Senators
from Vermont, Senators from Michigan, in addition to Senator
Coleman, who you had heard from, from Minnesota. Detroit,
Michigan, they have people going back and forth all the time to
Ambassador Harty. Right.
Senator Bill Nelson. You see the crisis there. In my State,
back and forth all the time to the Bahamas----
Ambassador Harty. Right.
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. Other parts of the
Caribbean. You see the potential. You can imagine what it's
like in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, back and
forth there. So, we're not--we'd better watch this one very,
very carefully. And it is our responsibility in our oversight
function to see that the executive branch of government is, in
fact, performing; and so, we will hold in abeyance, in the
meantime--we will hold in abeyance a formal hearing; in the
meantime, we will have informal discussions with you as to how
it is going.
And thank you for coming up and spending the time that you
have. And the information that we did not receive----
Ambassador Harty. We will get----
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. As requested by the----
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. It to you----
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. Senators, if you would
share that with us, we would appreciate it.
Ambassador Harty. Certainly. Thank----
Senator Bill Nelson. Thank----
Ambassador Harty [continuing]. You, sir.
Senator Bill Nelson [continuing]. You very much.
The meeting is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 4:52 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]
Additional Material Submitted for the Record
Press Release of Hon. John F. Kerry, U.S. Senator From Massachusetts
passport delays are unacceptable, kerry tells secretary rice
Washington, DC.--Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) has joined a
bipartisan group of his colleagues to express concern regarding
extensive delays in processing passports for millions of Americans.
Kerry sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking her
to immediately develop a plan to deal with the backlog--which is
estimated at nearly 2 million applications. The backlog was largely
created by the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires
U.S. citizens to have a passport when entering the United States while
traveling from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, or Bermuda. The State
Department has now had to suspend this requirement because of the
backlogs; however, pending applications to travel abroad are still
Kerry said the situation is hurting families and threaten imminent
travel plans because of the delays, even when people have applied well
in advance and followed the rules, which has forced some to either make
expensive changes to their plans at the last minute or pay the State
Department extra fees to expedite their application. Kerry signed the
letter to Rice outlining his concerns and asking that the State
Department waive the expedited fees and additional shipping costs.
``I am very concerned with these delays and wonder why the State
Department was so unprepared for the upswing in the number of passport
applications,'' Kerry said. ``It's unfair for our government to punish
people with unreasonable delays and unforeseen costs when the problem
lies with inefficiency at the State Department.''
The letter signed by Kerry can be found at http://kerry.senate.gov/
Responses of Assistant Secretary Maura Harty to Questions Submitted by
Senator Bill Nelson
Question. What were the projections for passport demand following
the enactment of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative? What were
these projections based upon--the Department's internal projections, or
the study provided by Bearing Point? Please provide both Bearing
Point's and the State Department's internal projections for passport
applications for 2005 to present as well as the number of actual
Answer. In 2003, the Department of State anticipated a possible
requirement for passports for Western Hemisphere travel and began to
plan for such an eventuality. The Department convened a working group,
which included a number of agencies, to examine the diplomatic, legal,
political, operational, and financial implications of removing the
passport exemption for Western Hemisphere travel and reported their
findings to Secretary Powell in May 2003. At that time, reliable data
on the number of U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere were
not available, so the impact on passport workload was speculative.
However, the working group correctly anticipated that the impact on
workload would be significant and recommended that any passport
requirement be rolled out in four stages, to flatten demand and provide
sufficient preparation time. The four stages proposed were Central
America and South America in 2005, the Caribbean in 2006, Mexico in
2007, and Canada in 2009.
In December 2004, WHTI was mandated legislatively as part of the
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA). Rather than a
4-year rollout, the legislation required that the Departments of State
and Homeland Security develop a plan to implement the new requirement
on or before January 1, 2008.
By that time, an independent contractor, Bearing Point, had already
been hired to project demand for passports associated with WHTI. In
December 2003, Bearing Point reported that estimated demand associated
with WHTI would be 9.2 million total for air/sea/land across a 3-year
implementation period. In December 2004, they revised the estimate to
4.4 million for air travel; and in October 2005, they revised the
estimate to 1.5 million for sea travel. Bearing Point did not estimate
total passport demand for any period. The estimated passport workload
projections were made by our staff; Bearing Point's data was one of
several sources used to project increases anticipated as a direct
result of WHTI. The workload assumptions used in the Bearing Point
study were based on an implementation schedule that would be phased in
between 2005-08. The actual implementation schedule changed from those
original assumptions to the air phase start date of January 2007.
The Department of State's initial projections following the
enactment of WHTI in the IRTPA legislation in December 2004 were
presented to OMB in January 2005, as follows:
Fiscal year passport WHTI-related
2005............................ 10.5 million...... 900,000.
2006............................ 12.0 million...... 1.8 million.
2007............................ 15.0 million...... 4 million.
This and all subsequent budget requests included funds for
additional staff, training, facilities, passport books, and passport
Projections were revised again in April 2006 and March 2007, as
Fiscal year passport WHTI-related
2007 (4/06)..................... 16.2 million...... 5.2 million.
2007 (3/07)..................... 17.7 million...... Not estimated.
Actual receipts for FY 2005-FY 2007 are as follows:
FY 2005........................................................... 10.4
FY 2006........................................................... 12.3
FY 2007 (to date)................................................. 10.5
In October 2005, another study conducted by Bearing Point in July
estimated that approximately 13 million U.S. citizens who did not
possess passports crossed the land borders in the preceding year. The
proportions were split between 40 percent crossing the border with
Mexico and 60 percent to Canada.
Bearing Point's projections for land travel, estimated in 2005 when
the land portion of WHTI was required by law to be effective no later
than January 1, 2008, were as follows:
Year Border crossings
July 2005-July 2006............................................... 8.0
July 2006-July 2007............................................... 5.7
July 2007-July 2008............................................... 5.6
Shortly thereafter, the law was revised to allow extension until
June 2009, and to require that a lower cost alternative to the book-
style passport be developed. In January 2006, as part of the Rice/
Chertoff Initiative, DHS, and State announced that a lower cost
passport card would be developed.
Question. When did the Department of State first realize that there
was a backlog of applications at the lockbox operation? What were the
first measures taken by the State Department and the contractor in
response to the backlog and when were those measures taken? Has the
lockbox contractor performed adequately? If the government believes the
contractor did not perform properly, are there any penalties under the
Answer. In January 2007, the lockbox service provider first started
reporting higher daily receipts than dispatches to the passport
agencies; therefore, their processing time increased from the standard
24-hour turnaround. The first measure taken by the State Department in
partnership with the U.S. Treasury was to require the lockbox service
provider to increase staffing to meet the demand. In the opinion of the
U.S. Treasury, who manages the lockbox contract, the service provider
responded adequately but not before the backlog at the lockbox
increased to just under 1 million applications.
The Department of the Treasury may, under the terms of their
agreement, penalize the contractor for the cost to the U.S. Government
for the delay in depositing the fees into the Treasury.
Question. When do you expect the passport application turnaround
time to return to normal?
Answer. The Department has developed a plan to eliminate the
current workload of passports and to return the processing time to our
normal 6 weeks timeframe by the end of 2007. In addition to an
aggressive hiring plan, we have called for volunteers from within the
Department and overseas to serve in our passport agencies. This
additional workforce will enable the passport agencies to concentrate
their work effort on the routine applications that have been in the
system the longest while continuing to process incoming applications
for expedited service. By reducing the number of applications in our
system and bringing more passport specialists onboard, we can work to
return our processing time to our standard of 6 weeks. We will also
train other Department employees to accept applications from the public
at counter agencies and to perform customer support and other vital,
With the additional adjudicators, other volunteers, and new
employees in place, and with no unexpected rise in applications, CA
expects to return to our traditional processing time by the end of
calendar year 2007.
Question. Following the suspension of the WHTI rule for air
travelers on June 7, what measures have been taken by State and the
Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the public is adequately
informed about what documentation they will need to prove that they
have applied for a passport?
Answer. The U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security
announced on June 8, 2007, that U.S. citizens traveling to Canada,
Mexico, Bermuda, or other countries in the Caribbean region who have
applied, but not received their passports, can reenter the United
States by air by presenting a government-issued photo identification
and Department of State official proof of application for a passport.
This transition period is in effect through September 30, 2007.
Members of my staff working with DHS have helped to communicate the
flexibility being shown to American travelers to the airlines serving
those destinations. We have posted information on our Web site about
entry requirements. In our updates and conversations with your offices
and applicants, we are advising travelers to contact their airlines to
confirm boarding requirements. We have done scores of media interviews,
radio, print, and television. We have even put a notice on ``YouTube.''
Finally we have worked with IATA to make continual updates to the
Timatic system to ensure that airline employees are aware of changes
made by countries such as Mexico, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic,
Aruba, and Jamaica to recognize and accept the USG's flexible policy.
Question. What steps are being taken now, and in the FY 2008 budget
request, to address the expected demand after the next phase of WHTI
goes into effect? What are the Department's plans to ensure that the
backlog does not continue as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
is fully implemented?
Answer. Passport demand will continue to grow as we move closer to
full implementation of WHTI. We have another workload study underway to
refine our demand estimates for FY 2008 through FY 2010.
We are building capacity within the current system. We are adding
400 additional government staff by the end of FY 2007, and plan to hire
another 400 in the first quarter of FY 2008. We are expanding the
physical structure of existing facilities, especially at the National
Passport Center and the Miami Passport Agency, and streamlining our
processes where possible. We are also ramping up the Arkansas Passport
Center, our new mega processing center, to reach its full capacity by
the end of CY 2007 of personalizing and mailing out 10 million
passports annually. We have plans in place to establish a second
contract production center in Tucson, Arizona, next year. We are
currently evaluating our options to meet projected demand and will
explore aggressively expansion projects to ensure that we can provide
Americans with passports in a timely and secure manner.
To meet long-term demand growth, we quickly formed a working group
to review earlier plans for expansion and will be reporting to the
committee as requested with a formal Strategic Plan.
Question. How many of the millions of Americans who applied for
passports since implementation of the air phase of WHTI paid for
expedited service they did not get? What measures beyond those
currently in place is the Department planning to take to ensure that
those Americans get their fees for expedited service back?
Answer. The Department is currently reviewing procedures to refund
expedite fees. We are evaluating the best process for returning funds
to applicants. We anticipate we will be able to publicize the new
procedures on our Web site in the next several days. Everyone who
requests expedited service had their application moved to the front of
the line. Regrettably, that did not always result in completion in the
stated timeframe. As our Web site states, anyone who paid the expedite
fee and does not believe they received expedited service can apply for
Question. A copy of all reports or surveys prepared by Bearing
Point or other private contractors to estimate the number of passport
applications (including high, middle, and low-range projections)
resulting from the WHTI, and a thorough explanation of how the
Department of State reached its final estimates, including all other
factors that the Department used to reach those estimates.
Answer. We expect to submit to you within a matter of days the
Bearing Point reports and surveys; after completing the Department of
State's formal procedures for the release of nonpublic information to
congressional oversight committees.
In January 2005, following the formal enactment of WHTI in the
IRTPA, the Department drew upon the Bearing Point data, our historical
trends in passport demand, and consultations with the Departments of
Homeland Security and Commerce to present initial projections to OMB.
It is important to note that during this process numerous critical
variables changed several times. These included: (1) The introduction
of a passport card concept and (2) implementation timelines that were
modified in terms of content (air and sea vs. land, changed to air vs.
land and sea) and actual timing. The Bearing Point study did not take
these changes into account because it predated them.
Our final estimates for FY 2007 demand were thus based primarily
upon consultations as previously described, information in Bearing
Point's final October 2005 report, and evaluations of prior year
figures for passport demand. Although we anticipated demand would
follow traditional cycles and increase in the second quarter of FY
2007, we did not anticipate the supercommpressed demand that we
actually experienced in the first few months of this year. We believe
publicity and confusion caused by the phased implementation of WHTI
likely caused some to apply in advance of actually needing
documentation to travel, effectively shifting land border passport
demand forward. Given legislative changes regarding the deadline for
implementing the land-phase of WHTI and the Rice-Chertoff announcement
regarding the introduction of a lower cost passport card, final
estimates for FY 2007 did not include land border passport demand.
We continue to review and to update our estimates for passport
demand. Another significant factor which we are now examining is what I
have heretofore referred to as the ``unknowable'' element of demand
associated with nontravel related desire for documentation.
Question. The Department of State's monthly projections for
passport demand, beginning in 2005 through the most recent data
available, and a side-by-side comparison of those projections and the
number of actual passport applications (incorporating in this response
the information requested by Senator Lugar in this second question for
the record submitted on June 19, 2007).
Answer. See attached chart.
Question. An explanation of the initial measures taken by the
lockbox contractor in response to the backlog at the lockbox, including
when those measures were taken.
Answer. As soon as we became aware of the backlog at the Citibank
lockbox, we worked with the Department of Treasury and Citibank to
eliminate it. Several enhancements in staffing, equipment, facilities,
and technology were implemented expeditiously to improve passport
application processing. The specific actions taken by Citibank in
cooperation with State and Treasury included the following.
manual processing needs
Hired an additional 381 employees by May to reach a total of
1,062 lockbox employees.
Established a new data-processing center in Buffalo, NY.
Hired a management team and more than 100 employees for data
entry of passport application information.
additional equipment, technology, and hardware
Increased the number of application image scanners from 8 to
Increased application server capacity, data storage, and
network bandwidth to accommodate increased volume.
Added 100 desktop computer workstations and two printers to
support increased staffing.
expanded processing facilities
Leased an additional 5,300 sq. ft. building in Delaware for
mailroom and application storage on March 13, 2007, to enable
three shifts to operate 24/7.
Converted the employee lunchroom within the Delaware primary
facility into a secure storage area for applications.
Added modular units to house employee amenities outside
primary building (2,500 sq. ft.).
Added the Buffalo site (4,500 sq. ft.) on February 6, 2007,
with three shifts.
leveraged process improvement technologies
Purchased new software to deliver greater keying capacity
and improve the quality of data entry,
Implemented a new process to scan and batch applications
without separating items in the application package.
Question. An account of exactly when more employees were hired to
help reduce the application backlog, including month by month
calculations of hiring practices for 2006 and 2007.
Answer. The attached charts track passport staff hired to help
reduce the application backlog and show a month-by-month calculation of
Question. With regard to the Department of State's plan of action
for reducing passport processing time, an outline of the target
recruitment level for volunteers, the qualifications necessary to
become a volunteer, and the amount of time necessary to train new
volunteers and employees recruited to assist with the passport
Answer. The Department has developed an action plan to reduce the
backlog of passport applications in our system and return to our
traditional service standard for routine applications of 6 to 8 weeks
by September 30, 2007. We will achieve this goal through a combination
of increased personnel resources, targeted work transfers, and
maximized production capacity at our mega-processing centers.
The Department estimates that we will require some 300 additional
adjudicators to meet the target. Toward that end, we have mobilized
Department personnel, including individuals currently assigned to posts
overseas. We have already deployed experienced adjudicators to task
forces at the National Passport Center in Portsmouth, NH, the New
Orleans Passport Agency, and in Washington, DC. We will also send
officers to other regional passport centers around the country.
At the same time, we are expediting the hiring of approximately 400
new full-time passport specialists during the fourth quarter of FY
2007; we will work to make them as productive as possible as quickly as
We have used various sources to identify qualified officers who
will work for varying periods of time between now and September 30:
Two hundred Presidential Management Fellows, Career Entry
Program participants, and entry-level officers currently
working in bureaus throughout the Department will be deployed
to NPC, New Orleans, and the Washington Passport Agency for the
remainder of the summer to adjudicate passport applications.
Most will have been trained and begun work by either July 16 or
Forty-six retired State Department employees are now working
on a WAE basis; we are looking to hire 50-100 more.
Forty-five Foreign Service Officers who are assigned
overseas are coming home temporarily to adjudicate passports at
regional passport agencies. The first group arrived July 16.
Twenty experienced consular officers who returned to take a
3-week advanced training course in Washington will instead
adjudicate passports, most in New Orleans.
We are postponing the nonhard language training or post
assignment of 120 entry-level officers who will complete
general consular training this summer, so that they can stay to
adjudicate passport applications. The first of these began
adjudicating passports on July 10.
The Department has recruited among its qualified employees for
personnel to serve as passport adjudicators. Employees who don't
qualify as adjudicators are volunteering to assist in various other
capacities (answering telephone inquiries, accepting documents at
passport agency counters, and other nonadjudicatory responsibilities).
In order to serve as adjudicators, employees must meet the hiring
criteria for passport adjudicators and successfully complete the
Passport and Nationality module of the basic Consular Course (for
Foreign Service officers) or the Passport Services Directorate's
National Training Program.
For adjudicators with some prior experience, the Bureau of Consular
Affairs (CA) has also provided refresher training on citizenship and
nationality regulations along with domestic training in the specialized
computer systems we use for passport adjudication. For personnel who
will perform customer service tasks, CA has provided training on
citizenship issues, document acceptance requirements, fees, and related
matters, so employees can quickly be productive in their new roles.
Personnel also receive onsite training in their specific assigned
duties once they report to the passport agency/center.
Question. Consular management mechanisms the Department of State
has put in place to maintain the accuracy and security of passport
adjudications as these new employees and volunteers came onboard,
including the projected expectation for increases in fraudulent
passport applications during this high-volume adjudication period.
Answer. Information contained on all passport applications is
automatically checked against several internal and interagency
databases, which immediately identify individuals who may not be
entitled to a U.S. passport. Every passport application is scrutinized
by a trained Passport Adjudicator, who is an expert in citizenship law
and passport fraud detection. Passport Adjudicators have at their
automated systems and a variety of passport fraud reference to aid them
in making a final determination. Their tools include a database that
identifies those individuals who have previously attempted to
fraudulently obtain a U.S. passport. All of these checks are performed
and procedures followed regardless of the urgency to issue the
A robust fraud prevention program is already in place to ensure
fraudulent applications are identified. This program is managed at each
agency and center by a Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM) dedicated to
training Passport Adjudicators and identifying fraud trends and
techniques. Passport Adjudicators refer suspected fraudulent passport
applications to the FPM, who in turn refers cases requiring law
enforcement investigation to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, as
The Department is supplementing the existing fraud prevention
program with additional resources to ensure the integrity of the U.S.
passport is preserved. All personnel on the adjudication task forces
must, at a minimum, pass the passport section of the basic consular
course and must attend a mandatory seminar prior to being assigned to
work. All shifts are supervised by a highly qualified, experienced
passport employee who can address any question and provide expert
guidance on all passport fraud-related issues that an adjudicator may
encounter. In addition, senior fraud experts from Consular Affairs'
Fraud Prevention Program and Passport Services' Office of Passport
Integrity are also deployed to each task force. These individuals
supplement the existing pool of FPMs to train, mentor, and provide
guidance to adjudicators.
Question. An account of your discussions of the passport backlog,
including requests for additional resources, with Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick,
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, and Under Secretary of State
for Management, Henrietta Fore.
Answer. Secretary Rice and Under Secretary Fore have taken a clear
interest in providing CA the resources necessary to meet the current
challenge. Secretary Rice herself contacted DHS Secretary Chertoff by
phone and again during an in-person meeting to work out the modalities
of the flexible accommodation for reentry into the United States.
Deputy Secretary Negroponte and Under Secretary Fore on several
occasions have publicly exhorted the Department to provide needed
volunteers for passport task force duty.
Question. An outline of the attrition rate for full-time government
employees and contract employees who contribute to passport application
The attrition rate among contract employees involved in passport
processing about 40 percent annually. The attrition rate among full-
time government employees has averaged roughly 7 percent for the last
two fiscal years (7.14 percent for FY 2007; 6.95 percent for FY 2006).
Question. The total number of Americans who paid the expedited
service fee for passport processing since the implementation of WHTI
and an explanation of how the Department of State and the Department of
Treasury will facilitate the refund of fees for those who did not
receive this expedited service.
Answer. So far in FY 2007, from October 1, 2006, through July 11,
2007, State has received approximately 4.3 million passport
applications for which an expedited fee was paid. Every one of these
applicants who paid the expedite fee did, in fact, receive expedited
service in that his/her application was automatically given a higher
priority in the queue. We process those applications more quickly than
those for standard passports. To further ensure expedited service, CA
has been paying for expedited passports to be mailed via Federal
Express and has not, as had been past practice, asked customers to
cover this additional cost.
The Department has reviewed the issue of refunds and decided to
maintain our longstanding policy of inviting any individuals who paid
for and believes they did not receive expedited service to request a
refund. We will grant refunds where required.
Question. An explanation of the measures you are taking to
prioritize passport applications for citizens who are traveling to
countries outside of WHTI.
Answer. We routinely screen our pending work to prioritize by
departure date and destination. Also, all customers who contact us to
inquire about the status of their applications are asked for their
destination and departure date, so we can ensure that their inquiries
are given timely attention.
Responses of Assistant Secretary Maura Harty to Questions Submitted by
Senator Richard Lugar
Question. I note that under the Western Hemisphere Travel
Initiative (WHTI) there is a credit-card-sized ``passport card'' that
is envisioned to serve in lieu of a traditional passport booklet. The
card could be used for those U.S. citizens crossing our borders by land
and sea but not by air. What can you tell us about the status of the
card, particularly as it relates to possible production delays that we
have seen with passports?
Answer. The Department of State has an ambitious and aggressive
schedule to develop the card as soon as possible. The Request for
Procurement to industry was issued on May 25, and we expect to begin
testing product samples this summer. In accordance with testing
requirements established in the certification by the National Institute
of Standards and Technology, we will conduct the full range of
security, durability, and privacy tests on the passport card and
protective sleeve to ensure we are issuing the best and most secure
card to the American public. Absent any technical challenges that may
arise as a result of testing, we expect to begin issuing the cards to
the public as soon as possible in 2008. We will issue a notice in the
Federal Register when State is ready to begin accepting applications
for the passport card and will, of course, conduct a robust public
outreach campaign to inform particularly the border resident
We will continue to build up both physical plant and personnel
numbers in order to be able to meet demand for passports and the
Question. Please provide on a month by month basis the following
information, starting from June 2006 to July 2007.
The estimated number of passport applications that State
The actual number of passport applications Citigroup
The number of applications Citigroup sent to State.
The difference between what Citigroup received and sent to
State, i.e., Citigroup's backlog.
The number of lockbox staff.
The number of passports State adjudicated.
The difference between incoming applications/adjudications
(i.e., the backlog).
The number of adjudication staff.
The number of passport applications State referred to
Diplomatic Security for possible fraud.
Answer. The Department does not have the information on the number
of lockbox staff because this contract is administered by the
Department of Treasury, but we have reached out to Treasury to see if
we can obtain that information. The attached chart includes the other
information you requested, with projections through July 2007, but
actual numbers only through May 2007 because we are not yet at the end
Question. On a somewhat related note, last Friday, President Bush
signed legislation that Senator Kennedy and I drafted, and which was
cosponsored by many of the members of this committee.
The legislation increased from 50 to 500 the number of Special
Immigrant Visas available for Iraqis and Afghanis who had served with
the United States as translators/interpreters.
What is the status of these visas?
How many of the 500 have been issued?
Where were they issued?
Has the recipient entered the U.S.?
What current obstacles remain regarding these visas, either
within the U.S. Government or overseas?
Answer. The visas that were noncurrent before the legislation was
passed are currently being processed at the National Visa Center (NVC).
NVC has created a special unit that is corresponding directly with the
translators and their sponsors and is assisting them to assemble the
documents--including proof of identity--which they will need for these
visas to be adjudicated. The instruction packets were sent out on
Monday, June 18, the first work day after the President signed the
legislation. One translator has responded with all of the documents
required for visa processing. NVC is currently scheduling an
appointment for that applicant's interview with the U.S. Embassy in
The Department has been able to issue 36 SIVs (along with 32
derivative visas issued to dependents). Thirty-three of the 36 primary
SIVs were issued by the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan; the remainder
were issued by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. All of the
visas that have been issued were treated as ``expedites''--the basic
data entry at NVC took only 3-5 days before the cases were sent to post
The information about whether the recipients have entered the
United States would be available from DHS' Office of Customs and Border
Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs) are likely to be an issue in many
cases, but we do not expect SAOs to delay the majority of the
participants. In addition, contact is largely dependent upon e-mail
because many have redeployed or relocated outside Iraq; international
mail does not function within Iraq. Problems with naming conventions
and fraudulent Iraqi documents also present a challenge.
Question. One of the biggest complaints we have all received from
constituents throughout this is the lack of accurate feedback regarding
the status and even the location of an individual's passport
application. What improvements are you making to provide more real-time
information regarding the status of individual applications? How are
applications currently sorted for adjudication--by the date the
application was received? By departure date? Are all completed
passports now being sent via overnight mail to the applicants?
Answer. The initial problem was an unprecedented spike, which
created a backlog of unopened applications in mailed envelopes at our
lockbox facility. We cannot confirm receipt of a passport application
until it is data-entered into our Travel Document Issuance System
(TDIS). Accurate status reports could not be provided to many people.
Applications are now being processed by our lockbox and entered into
TDIS very quickly.
Concurrently, our National Passport Information Center (NPIC) began
receiving enormous numbers of calls daily. NPIC expedited its hiring
efforts, adding over 400 Customer Service Representatives (CSRS); added
space; increased technical capability; and expanded its service hours.
We also established two temporary phone task forces--one at the
Department and one at the Kentucky Consular Center--working extended
hours weekdays and weekends. To ensure that customers receive accurate
data, we are looking closely at our training program and will work with
our contractor to see that new employees fully understand how to
identify and convey status reports.
Previously, applications appeared on the online status check only
after the application was batched at the agency, which could take
several days. The process has been improved so that the application now
appears on the online status check at the earliest stage on its entry
into TDIS. The online status information now updates four times a day
rather than once a day and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The information obtained in the online status check includes all of the
information needed by DHS for a land or sea border crossing from
Canada, Mexico, or the Bahamas. The online status check will also let
the customer know that the passport has been sent.
Incoming applications are sorted by the date they are received.
Traditionally, completed passports are sent by Priority Mail with
delivery confirmation, unless the applicant requests and pays for
express mailing. However, we utilize without charge whatever means
necessary, including next-day, same-day, or courier delivery services
to ensure that customers make their trips.