Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Lankford: State Dep't has unprecedented 3-million passport backlog (3x more than during pandemic)

Keep Calm and Wait for Your Passport
By US Senator James Lankford (R-OK)

If you’re thinking of traveling in the next few months, don’t book your flight until you have your passport in your hands. To give you perspective, if you apply today for a passport, you probably won’t have it in hand until Thanksgiving, even if you pay the extra fee to “expedite” it. I think the State Department needs to get a better definition of “expedite.”  

Just a few years ago, getting a passport routinely took four to six weeks. Now, passport processing takes anywhere from 12 to 18 weeks or longer—another example of this Administration’s inability to fulfill basic government services like permits, tax decisions, or a multitude of other issues. 

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, passport applications reached a 1.6 million backlog. I found out at the end of May 2020 that not a single passport had been processed since March 19, 2020, despite continuing to collect fees. I immediately sent a letter to then-Secretary of State Pompeo to find out what was going on and address it. Secretary Pompeo immediately made passport services “mission critical,” the backlog started to get caught up, and things went mostly back to normal.

But when the Biden Administration took over in 2021, processing times started to fall behind again and now have exceeded pandemic levels. Why?

State Department staff haven’t been operating at 100 percent capacity, and passport offices never fully reopened to the public after the pandemic. The office now has an unprecedented 3 million passport backlog—three times the worst backlog during the pandemic.

My office has received almost five-times the average number of requests for help this year. Oklahomans are frustrated that they face canceled vacations they saved for years to take, honeymoons they planned, business trips, or mission trips all because the State Department cannot do its job. They’ve created a mess. 

I introduced my Passport Act, which addresses the root cause of the process breakdown, provides straightforward solutions to fix it, and prevents it from reaching historic levels again.

My bill will improve transparency and customer service by requiring the State Department to provide detailed status updates for passport applicants and add a customer service chat feature connecting applicants with the National Passport Information Center. These days, you can track a package delivery online from almost any provider—but the State Department is lagging behind.

I worked with Senator Ricketts from Nebraska to have my bill included in the State Department reauthorization bill. Then, we worked to get it included in the annual defense bill moving through Congress right now. 

I will see this through to get a solution to prevent this fiasco from happening again. Enjoy your vacation trip overseas; just get your passport before you book your flight.  


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