GAO: Don’t give criminals passports

Poor information-sharing practices are hurting the State Department’s ability to ensure that criminals and terrorists don’t get U.S. passports, the Government Accountability Office reports.

“State faces a number of challenges to its passport fraud detection efforts, including limited inter- and intra-agency information sharing and insufficient fraud-prevention staffing, training, oversight and investigative resources,” auditors at the congressional watchdog agency wrote in a report released last week.

The State Department doesn’t receive regular updates from the FBI on criminals wanted by federal and state law enforcement agencies and lacks information about people on the federal consolidated watch list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), the report states.

This inadequate information sharing has led to some glaring failures, the report warns.

When GAO’s auditors ran the names of 67 federal and state fugitives through State’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS), they found that fewer than half the fugitives -- including one on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list -- were in the system.

Criminals and terrorists who are not listed in CLASS could “obtain passports and travel internationally without the knowledge of appropriate authorities or, in some cases, potentially flee the country to escape charges,” the report warns.

A U.S. passport is the most valued travel document in the world, sparing its holder from delays upon entry to the United States and allowing its bearer to travel without a visa to many countries. As such, it is a powerful tool in the hands of international criminals, the report states.

Passport fraud frequently is used in connection with other crimes, such as drug trafficking and alien smuggling.

State, FBI and TSC officials have discussed improving information sharing but have not yet done anything substantive, the report states.

GAO recommends that officials from State, the Homeland Security Department, FBI and U.S. Attorney General’s Office create a plan and timetable to improve information sharing among their organizations.

Officials must ensure that the CLASS system has a more comprehensive and updated list of federal and state fugitives and individuals from the TSC database, the report states.

State officials must also create and update a centralized electronic fraud-prevention library to share fraud-prevention data and tools within the department, the report recommends.

Department officials said they agreed with the report’s findings and recommendations.


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