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Contract to Watch: State Department's $850M Effort to Revamp Passports and Services

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The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is seeking bidders to modernize the underlying technology it uses to process visas, deliver passport services and provide emergency services to Americans overseas.

The Consular Systems Modernization contract, posted to the government’s Federal Business Opportunities website, is valued at up to $850 million over 10 years, but its importance goes far beyond the price tag.

The request for proposals is crafted around ensuring the Bureau of Consular Affairs provides better customer service to millions of Americans and visa carriers each year, and is the pillar of the “ConsularOne initiative.”

The RFP describes the ConsularOne initiative as “intended to modernize and consolidate the operational environment under a common technology framework to better support the services provided to CA’s customers.”

In theory, the State Department wants to “significantly shift how consular services” will be delivered globally by:

  • Promoting a self-service approach for customers through a user-friendly website.
  • Facilitating a paperless workflow through an online application process.
  • Creating a user-friendly interface providing a common look and feel to all functions for customers and users.
  • Integrating information needed to make confident, well-informed decisions.  
  • Providing the ability to adjust and scale operations reliably and efficiently.

In practice, that will mean meeting surges in demand like the one expected this year.

In March, Aileen Smith, director of program management and operational support at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said her agency expected more than 20 million applications for new and renewed passports this year—“an all-time” high.

The surge comes from 10 years ago when a law first required Americans traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada to attain passports, which overwhelmed Consular Affairs’ IT systems. Many of those customers will be renewing their passports this year.

“It’s unprecedented for us,” said Smith, speaking at an event hosted by Government Executive and Nextgov. “We are modernizing now, and we took a lot of those lessons learned from 10 years ago.”

Two parts of ConsularOne are already underway, including an Online Passport Renewal service.

At the same time, the Bureau of Consular Affairs enjoyed a major improvement in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, jumping 10 points.   

Each portion of the modernization will cater to any of five communities of customers, including the general public, internal and external users and third-party customers.

The State Department has never attempted anything like it before, according to Brian Friel, co-founder of Nation Analytics. Friel studied the contract and hundreds of others in a report that sheds light on how few contracts awarded in government actually seek “new requirements.”

“The State Department’s RFP is a new requirement,” Friel said.

Industry has until June 7 to respond to the RFP.

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