Law lets retirees help process passports

Passport Backlog Reduction Act of 2007

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Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:50 a.m. Aug. 1, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

President Bush signed legislation July 30 that will allow retired Foreign Service employees to more easily return to work at the State Department to help process a massive backlog of passport applications.

The White House and lawmakers hope that the new law, the Passport Backlog Reduction Act, will eliminate processing delays that have wrecked summer travel plans and angered travelers.

A sharp spike in passport applications this year has left State overwhelmed, and it has yet to process three million applications. Under the new rules, retirees can come back to help process the applications without having to worry about jeopardizing their retirement benefits.

This year’s bump in applications is due in large part to new travel restrictions that require Americans traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean to carry passports under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Officials have decided to delay the program’s implementation until after the busy summer travel season to alleviate some of the strain.

State said passport applications will exceed 17 million in fiscal 2007 and increase as the new WHTI travel requirements become effective.

More than 50 retirees have already returned to help with the process, and the agency has hired more than 500 new employees since May to do passport work, said State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez.

The agency also has told Congress that it plans to have processing time back down to the standard six weeks by the end of the year, he added.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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