House bill targets US passport backlog

Lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation on Thursday that would require the Biden administration to submit a plan to eliminate the massive U.S. passport backlog.

The Passport Backlog Elimination Act was introduced by Democratic Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHouse bill targets US passport backlog Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe Tlaib, Democrats slam GOP calls for border oversight to fight opioid crisis MORE (Va.) and Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyDOJ tells former Trump officials they can testify in Jan. 6 investigations: report Overnight Energy: Democrats request interview with Exxon lobbyist after undercover tapes | Biden EPA to reconsider Trump rollback on power plant pollution in 2022 | How climate change and human beings influence wildfires Democrats request interview with Exxon lobbyist after undercover tapes MORE (N.Y.) and GOP Reps. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerMcCarthy pulls GOP picks off House economic panel GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony MORE (Ill.) and Tim BurchettTimothy (Tim) Floyd BurchettGOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto House bill targets US passport backlog Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection MORE (Tenn.).

The bill focuses on staffing shortages at the State Department that have caused the passport backlog, requiring the agency to ensure processing time is six to eight weeks for applications and two to three weeks for expedited applications.

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The State Department said in a briefing last week that processing could take up to 18 weeks. The backlog now numbers as many as 2 million passport applications, including new ones and renewals, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt told reporters.

The legislation would give the State Department a 30-day deadline to submit a plan, which must then be implemented within one month. The State Department inspector general would also have to submit an audit on the effectiveness of the plan within six months of the bill's enactment.

“Too many of our constituents are left in limbo, not sure if they will receive their passport in time,” Connolly said. “Some don’t even know the status of their application, and others have been forced to forego travel altogether. While I appreciate the efforts of State Department employees as they work to reduce this backlog, the need for substantial improvement remains.” 

The bipartisan group of lawmakers had introduced the same legislation in July 2020. The State Department’s reduced in-person workforce, leading to the long delays, was a result from COVID-19 restrictions.

Pressure has been mounting on the Biden administration to act on the backlog.

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Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week MORE (D-Conn.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenKuwaiti government bans unvaccinated citizens from traveling outside country Swastika found carved in State Department elevator Biden should reconsider planned reversal of bipartisan US policy on Jerusalem MORE on Monday, asking for a description of the strategy to address the backlog and a timeline for hiring more staff to meet the demand.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezLobbying world This week: Congress starts summer sprint The Innovation and Competition Act is progressive policy MORE (D-N.J.) also said this week that his office is getting “thousands of requests for help with passports” and urged his constituents to check their passport expiration dates. 

Last week, top members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to Blinken calling for the State Department to “prioritize efforts to reduce processing time for passport applications.”