State Department Underestimated Passport Request Volume (Sen. Bill Nelson)

You shouldn’t have to call your senator or congressman just to get a passport. But that’s what thousands of Americans have had to do this year. Some for a family emergency, some for a wedding, some for their vacation – and all got caught up in a government boondoggle that cost them time and money.

The State Department, relying on projections by an outside contractor, badly underestimated the number of requests they would receive upon implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires passports for air travel to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and countries in the Caribbean. Their failure resulted in a massive backlog of passport applications, leaving millions of Americans without passports that they had applied for months in advance.

Not only was the State Department unprepared, but the private contractor that the Treasury Department paid to process passport fees was also caught off guard. The huge influx of fees created a logjam at the beginning of the application process, contributing further to the overall backlog.

After chairing a hearing on the passport backlog earlier this week, it is clear to me that we need an investigation of the government’s use of outside contractors for this type of work. I am also asking the State Department for more answers on why they so badly miscalculated the need to prepare for the new requirement even after a government report showed they weren’t ready.

Following a recommendation made in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress passed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to help protect our country. The State Department must do what is needed to end the backlog, so we can move forward with implementing this good and necessary law.