Bill Would Push State Department to Clear Passport Backlog

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the backlog of Americans waiting for passports has ballooned to at least 1.4 million people.

Bipartisan House legislation introduced Thursday aims to speed up the State Department’s response to reduce and eliminate the 1.4 million passport applications that have piled in the months since COVID-19 struck.

The Passport Backlog Elimination Act—introduced by Rep. Gerry Connolly, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn.—would prompt the State Department to submit a plan for eliminating the backlog to Congress within 30 days of the bill’s passage.

Secondly, the bill would authorize the State Department inspector general to audit the agency’s execution on its plan.

The bill follows concerns Congress voiced in June, when the backlog of passport applications ballooned to 1.6 million while the State Department’s consular services that process those applications mostly shutdown due to COVID-19 beginning March 19.

“Since June, I have been requesting a plan to eliminate the passport backlog. While I appreciate the progress that has been made, a backlog of 1.4 million applications remains unacceptable,” Connolly said in a statement.  “Too many of our constituents are left in limbo, not sure if they will receive their passport in time and some don’t even know the status of their application.”

Maloney said the legislation ensures the State Department is “transparent about its plan to process outstanding passport applications,” adding that some Americans awaiting passports are essentially in limbo, “stuck abroad or unable to travel for work.”

According to the State Department’s website, 12 passport agencies are in the first phase of the agency’s three-phase reopening plan, while five passport agencies are in phase-two.

“As global conditions evolve and U.S. states begin to reopen, we are resuming operations in phases. We ask for your patience as we safely work on your application,” the website states.

In a statement, Burchett said the legislation “will provide clear guidance” for Americans on when they can expect to get answers on their passport applications.