FIRST ON FOX: Two Republican lawmakers are leading the charge on a sweeping reform bill aimed at clearing a passport processing backlog that regularly causes difficulties for Americans seeking to travel abroad – a bill that is believed to have a good chance of getting to President Biden’s desk.
Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Maria Salazar, R-Fla., are introducing the Passport System Reform and Backlog Prevention Act, which would aim to reduce processing times for passports, which have been a problem for years but have remained high since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered offices and led to massive delays.
The authors say that the delay Americans currently face, which the State Department currently has at 7-10 weeks for regular processing, for a passport renewal is well behind other countries for processing, where online functionality and speed are more common. Processing times shot up during the COVID-19 pandemic and are not yet at the pre-pandemic levels, which the authors say was still high.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers this year that during the COVID-19 pandemic ‘the bottom basically dropped out of the system’ at the department for handling both passports and visas due to travel demand plummeting, and the agency is still rebuilding while trying to keep up with the enormous surge in demand.
The State Department issued a record 22 million passports in fiscal year 2022, and officials have said the agency is on track to break that record in 2023.
‘The collapse of the passport system represents a signature failure that upended and inconvenienced tens of millions of Americans who have the right to expect far more of their government,’ Issa said in a statement to Fox News Digital. ‘This transformative approach will not only address many of the problems that led to the backlog, but also deliver modernizations that are overdue and will set the system right for decades to come.’
‘Passport processing backlogs have been a nightmare for my constituents. It has been almost four years since the start of the pandemic,’ Salazar said. ‘There is no excuse for forcing the American people to wait more than three months for a passport. Our legislation cleans up this mess at the State Department and puts this critical government service back on track.’
The aim of the legislation is to reform the system so that a U.S. citizen can get a passport renewed within 30 days, in part by the federal government using technology and best practices to do so. To achieve this, it not only sets standards for the government but also allows the State Department to hire up to 100 personal service contractors in each of fiscal years 2024-2026 for consular affairs.
The targets set include those related to cybersecurity, affordability, customer service and geographic accessibility.
Passport Issuance Reform and Backlog Elimination Act by Fox News on Scribd
The bill envisions a dashboard to allow congressional caseworkers to track casework for their constituents, a system of communication for citizens to receive email and text alerts about the state of their passport renewal and an app for those communications.
It also would allow internet-based submissions of first-time applications as well as renewals. Separately, it would require the Government Accountability Office to review the passport issuance process and see where additional improvements could be made, including possible collaboration with other agencies.
Issa’s office told Fox News Digital that they are confident of the bill making it out of committee and passing on the House floor. They are also hopeful that it will pick up the support of Democrats, with speedier passport processing seen as an area where there is bipartisan support.
The bill has also picked up the support of Salesforce, a cloud-based software company that specializes in the type of software that would be used to modernize passport processing.
‘Citizens want government organizations to provide online services that match the innovative consumer experiences found in the private sector. But the impact of legacy systems can often create mass-scale frustration,’ Hugh Gamble, vice president of Federal Government Affairs at Salesforce, told Fox News Digital.
‘Salesforce is excited about the steps Congress is taking to modernize government IT, which will accelerate the public sector’s digital transformation and ensure a future where constituents can just as easily access critical services as calling an Uber,’ Gamble said.