GAO report: State Department issued passports to 4,500 sex offenders

The State Department issued passports to at least 4,500 registered sex offenders, including 30 federal employees, according to a report released by the investigative arm of Congress.

The State Department balked at the presentation of the study, released on Wednesday by the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), saying that it was “misleading” and “that it conveys more ‘shock value’ than factual accuracy,” according to a letter to the GAO responding to a draft copy of the report.

ADVERTISEMENT
The State Department said that the 4,500 passports issued to sex offenders amounted to “less than 0.0003 percent” of the total 16 million passports it gave to U.S. citizens in 2008.

The study, requested by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), stipulates that the State Department does not have the authority to deny passports to the majority of sex offenders.

But the report also suggests that the State Department may have violated federal law by granting passports to individuals convicted of sex tourism.

In December 2008, President George W. Bush signed a law granting the State Department the ability to deny individuals a passport if they’ve been convicted of sex tourism with minors while abroad.

And according to the GAO report, the State Department only “recently began reviewing the statute that requires passports to be denied to these individuals in April 2010, after we brought this statute to its attention because State was not aware of the statute.”

A State Department spokesman rejected this finding by the GAO and said that the department was in the process of incorporating the law into its passport issuance system.

“The department is working with the Department of Justice on implementation of this legislation,” said Darby Holladay, a State department spokesman, in an interview. “And the department exercises its authority to deny passports consistent with the department regulations and applicable laws.”

The GAO report does not detail whether the issuance of passports to sex offenders in 2008 aided them in their committing sex offenses abroad. But their investigations did find several instances in which the passport recipients traveled to a country known for sex tourism.

The study cross-referenced the passport databases of the State Department with those of the National Sex Offender Registry. The report details that 4,500 is “the lowest approximation” because many of the passport records and sex registry entries did not have Social Security numbers, which the agency used to confirm individuals.

About half of the passport recipients lived California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Michigan – border states with the some of the country’s largest populations.

The State Department is allowed to prevent an individual from getting a passport if they have an outstanding felony warrant, more than $2,500 in delinquent child support payments, or if they are prohibited from leaving the country, among other reasons.

This is not the first time that the investigative arm of Congress has found shortcomings with the State Department.

Last year, in a separate study, the GAO found that the State Department’s passport issuance system was severely lacking and that it had obtained four fraudulent U.S. passports using documents of dead or fictitious people.