House bill targets US passport backlog
By Alex Gangitano
Washington, July 22, 2021
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 Connolly (Va.) and Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) and GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Tim Burchett (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.
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.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken 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 Menendez (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.”
Click here to read this story as it appeared in the Hill.