Lawmakers are asking the State Department about a backlog of passport applications and requesting that the department focus on combating the “bad actors” who are scamming Americans desperate for passports.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, and Rep. Michael Lawler, New York Republican, wrote to Rena Bitter, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
“Our constituents have been waiting anywhere from 7 to 13 weeks to secure the documents which allows them to visit loved ones, conduct business, or tour recreationally overseas,” the lawmakers wrote.
Passport applications have been backed up for months, and officials blame staff shortages related to the pandemic along with an increase in applications. The department receives up to 500,000 applications a week.
The lawmakers said that the lengthy backup has caused some applicants to turn to private brokers who promise them an appointment for urgent and emergency travel, but with a steep price tag.
“In best-case scenario, brokers are charging individuals for a service that can be facilitated by the National Passport Information Center,” they wrote. “In the worst-case scenario, brokers are reportedly promising appointment bookings that are, in actuality, fake. Thus robbing individuals of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.”
Mr. McCaul and Mr. Lawler wrote that the ultimate solution is stopping the “bad actors” and called on the department to investigate “whether and to what extent these actors are violating state or federal law in their creation of a quasi-black market for passports.”
They acknowledged that the department made a rule to prohibit changes to appointments once they have been made, to prevent the manipulation of appointment times. They asked for clarity on when the new rule was implemented, when and if employees were notified and whether any data has been obtained to see if employees are actually following the guidance.
In the letter, the lawmakers asked the bureau if they were aware of the brokers and the illegal acts, and if they’ve done anything to thwart them. They also asked what steps the bureau could take to “root out malfeasance and ensure Americans can access urgent travel and emergency appointments,” and if any law changes could possibly help address the issue.