House approves measure to rehire retired passport workers

For anxious travelers sweating out long waits for passports, relief may be on the way. The House has approved a measure that would let the State Department hire retired Foreign Service workers to help manage a backlog of nearly 3 million passport applications.

The Passport Backlog Reduction Act of 2007 passed the House July 16 and will return to the Senate to be reconciled with a version approved in June. The Senate must vote a final time to approve House amendments before sending the bill to President Bush for his signature.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sponsored the measure. He said the bill would grant flexibility to State to temporarily rehire retired and fully trained passport processors to help with the unexpected surge in demand. Currently, Foreign Service retirees have little incentive to assist in crises because they lose retirement benefits if they exceed wage and time caps, he said.

“This will allow the State Department to tap into a wealth of retired employees who are already trained to process passports and assist travelers,” he said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said she has seen the backlog problem up close in her home state.

"I have witnessed the suffering of those waiting to receive passports firsthand in Houston, where my office shares a building with the passport agency,” she said before the House vote. “I have spoken with many of the countless Americans who have carefully planned and saved money for family vacations, only to lose the money spent on plane tickets and hotel rooms when they are unable to procure passports.”

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