GAO: State's passport strategy needs work

The State Department doesn't have a long-term, comprehensive strategy for its  passport operations and should create one to meet a surge in demand for passport documents, according to government auditors.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report released today that a more inclusive and long-term approach would help the department meet the expected increase.

The upcoming rush for passport documents is predicted because of new requirements under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) that become effective next year. An increased demand for passports spurred by the first set of WHTI requirements in 2007 led to extensive delays in issuing passports.

State is responsible for issuing the passport and passport cards United States  citizens will be required to present when entering the U.S. by land or sea beginning in June 2009.

The State and Homeland Security Departments announced this week that the U.S. passport card, a wallet-sized passport alternative that was designed for travelers who cross U.S. land borders frequently, is in full production and being distributed. Officials say that the cards’ vicinity-read radio frequency identification (RFID) chip will facilitate quick transit across the border.

State agreed with GAO’s recommendations, but took issue with some of the findings.

As of June 2009, U.S. citizens entering the United States by land or sea will need one of the following:

• A U.S. passport.
• A U.S. passport card.
• A valid trusted-traveler card.
• A. valid Merchant Mariner Document.

Canadian citizens will need one of the following:
• A Canadian passport.
• A valid trusted-traveler program card.

Mexican citizens will need one of the following:
• A Mexican passport.
• A valid Border Crossing Card, in some cases.

Bermudians will need one of the following:
• A passport issued by Bermuda or the United Kingdom.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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