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Before the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, Committee 
on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 2:30 p.m. EDT:
Tuesday, May 5, 2009: 

State Department: 

Significant Vulnerabilities in the Passport Issuance Process: 

Statement of Jess T. Ford, Director:
International Affairs and Trade: 


[End of section] 

May 5, 2009: 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our recent work on significant 
fraud vulnerabilities in the passport issuance process. My testimony 
today will highlight the results of our March 2009 report on undercover 
investigative tests, which confirmed the continued existence of 
significant fraud vulnerabilities in this process.[Footnote 1] We also 
provided a letter to you in April 2009, describing our recent work on 
passport fraud and summarizing actions the Department of State (State) 
has taken to address the prior weaknesses related to fraud 
vulnerabilities we identified.[Footnote 2] We have found that these 
vulnerabilities stem from people, process, and technology. For example, 
the lack of training and resources provided to people contributes to 
vulnerabilities in the detection of fraudulent applications and 
counterfeit documents. The limitations in the access to inter-agency 
information contribute to vulnerabilities related to processes. 
Finally, the lack of databases and information-sharing technologies 
contribute to vulnerabilities in the verification of passport 
applicants' records. I will also discuss the status of prior 
recommendations and suggested corrective actions we have made to reduce 
fraud risk in the passport program. 

A U.S. passport not only allows an individual to travel freely in and 
out of the United States, but also can be used to obtain further 
identification documents, prove U.S. citizenship, and set up bank 
accounts, among other things. Because passports issued under a false 
identity help enable individuals to conceal their movements and 
activities, there is great concern that passport fraud could facilitate 
acts of terrorism. Further, passport fraud facilitates other crimes 
such as illegal immigration, money laundering, drug trafficking, tax 
evasion, and alien smuggling. Malicious individuals may seek to exploit 
vulnerabilities in State's current passport issuance process, such as a 
lack of due diligence on the part of examiners who screen applications, 
by using counterfeit or fraudulently obtained documents as proof of 
identity and U.S. citizenship to obtain genuine U.S. passports. 
[Footnote 3] 

My comments today are based on our previously issued reports, which we 
performed in accordance with standards set forth by the Council of 
Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) and generally 
accepted government auditing standards. 

Undercover Investigation Confirms Continued Existence of Significant 
Fraud Vulnerabilities in the Passport Issuance Process: 

In March 2009 we reported on the results of our investigation into the 
vulnerabilities of State's passport issuance process. Specifically, we 
reported our undercover investigator was easily able to obtain four 
genuine U.S. passports using counterfeit or fraudulently obtained 
documents. For this investigation, we designed four test scenarios that 
would simulate the actions of a malicious individual who had access to 
another person's identity information (a practice commonly known as 
identity theft). We then attempted to obtain four genuine U.S. 
passports by using counterfeit or fraudulently obtained documents, such 
as birth certificates and drivers' licenses, and the Social Security 
Numbers (SSN) of fictitious or deceased individuals. In the most 
egregious case, our investigator obtained a U.S. passport using 
counterfeit documents and the SSN of a man who died in 1965. In another 
case, our undercover investigator obtained a U.S. passport using 
counterfeit documents and the genuine SSN of a fictitious 5-year-old 
child--even though his counterfeit documents and application indicated 
he was 53 years old. 

The results of our investigation confirmed that State continues to 
struggle with reducing fraud risks we have previously identified at 
both the application point and the adjudication point[Footnote 4]. In 
2005, we reported weaknesses in State's information sharing with 
federal and state agencies.[Footnote 5] For example, we reported that 
State did not receive information on U.S. citizens listed in the 
federal government's consolidated terrorist watch list and State does 
not routinely obtain the names of other individuals wanted by both 
federal and state law enforcement authorities. We also found that the 
information that State received from the Social Security Administration 
(SSA) was limited and did not include access to SSA's death records, 
although State officials said they were exploring the possibility of 
obtaining these records in the future. A little over 2 years later, in 
July 2007, we reported that many previously identified problems in the 
oversight of the acceptance facilities[Footnote 6] persisted and noted 
that State lacked a formal oversight program for its acceptance 
facilities to ensure effective controls are established and monitored 
regularly.[Footnote 7] We concluded more needed to be done because of 
the critical role acceptance agents play in establishing the identity 
of passport applicants, which is critical to preventing the issuance of 
genuine passports to criminals or terrorists as a result of receipt of 
a fraudulent application. 

State Indicated It Is Taking Actions to Address GAO Reports: 

With regard to adjudication, State officials told us a lack of access 
to information contributed to the failures identified by our recent 
undercover tests. According to State, passport specialists did not wait 
for the results of a required SSA database check before approving our 
fraudulent applications. In all four of our tests, State failed to 
identify the fraudulent birth certificates we used. State officials 
attributed these failures to a lack of access to state-level vital 
records data that would have allowed passport specialists to verify the 
authenticity of the birth certificates. State officials indicated they 
were exploring ways to access vital records and department of motor 
vehicle records nationwide to address the lack-of-access issues. In the 
case of our most egregious application--in which we fraudulently 
obtained a passport using the SSN of a man who died in 1965--State 
officials said that the lack of an automated check against SSA death 
records has been a long-standing vulnerability of the passport 
adjudication process. In an attempt to provide automatic death record 
information for all cases reviewed during adjudication, Passport 
Services officials represented that they have recently purchased a 
subscription to the Death Master File which includes weekly updates of 
deaths recorded by SSA. Passport Services intends for the Death Master 
File check to supplement the other checks in the adjudication process 
and not replace the current returns from SSA. Further, we note that 
State issues passports to some individuals who do not provide SSNs, 
meaning that State cannot rely on an SSN check to identify all 
fraudulent applications.[Footnote 8] 

With respect to the acceptance process, State officials told us that 
they are working toward improving oversight of passport acceptance 
facilities as we recommended in our July 2007 report. In that report we 
recommended that State establish a comprehensive oversight program for 
passport acceptance facilities. In September 2008, Passport Services 
announced the establishment of an Acceptance Facility Oversight Program 
within the Office of Passport Integrity and Internal Controls. 
According to State, the oversight program will include audits, 
monitoring, and reporting on each acceptance facility's adherence to 
Passport Service's national policies and procedures, and to make 
recommendations for corrective actions for any deficiencies identified 
throughout the application process. State plans to implement the 
program in phases from 2009 to 2013. 

In addition, State officials also told us that they took several 
actions in direct response to our undercover investigation. State 
suspended the adjudication authority of the passport specialists 
responsible for approving our fraudulent applications and the authority 
of the facilities that accepted our applications pending additional 
antifraud training. It revised the performance standards for passport 
specialists to eliminate the production targets for 2009, while all 
other aspects of performance standards were left intact for quality and 
fraud prevention purposes. State officials added that Passport Services 
will be conducting a study and working with the union to develop new 
production targets. These targets will not be in place until 2010. 
State identified additional tools and systems that would help address 
vulnerabilities within the issuance process. 

Prior Recommendations and Corrective Actions: 

Since 2005 we have made several recommendations to State to improve the 
coordination and execution of passport fraud detection efforts, 
including considering ways to improve interagency information sharing 
and strengthening fraud prevention training. We also recommended that 
State consider conducting performance audits of acceptance facilities, 
agents, and accepted applications. State generally concurred with our 
recommendations and implemented many of them. 

Nonetheless, our recent investigation shows that serious 
vulnerabilities remain. The Secretary of State should ensure that our 
prior recommendations are adequately addressed and that all currently 
planned corrective actions are successfully implemented. We also 
suggested that the Secretary of State take the following corrective 

* improve the training and resources available to passport acceptance 
facility employees for detecting passport fraud, especially related to 
detecting counterfeit documents; 

* for applications containing an SSN, establish a process whereby 
passport specialists are not able to issue a passport prior to 
receiving and reviewing the results of SSN and Death Master File 
checks, except under specific or extenuating circumstances and after 
supervisory review; 

* explore commercial options for performing real-time checks of the 
validity of SSNs and other information included in applications; 

* conduct "red team" (covert) tests similar to our own and use the 
results of these tests to improve the performance of passport 
acceptance agents and passport specialists; and: 

* work with state-level officials to develop a strategy to gain access 
to the necessary state databases and incorporate reviews of these data 
into the adjudication process. 


In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, State officials have known about 
vulnerabilities in the passport issuance process for many years but 
have failed to effectively address these vulnerabilities. Although 
State has proposed reasonable oversight measures for passport 
acceptance facilities in response to our prior recommendations, it is 
too early to determine whether these measures will be effective. Our 
most recent investigation reveals passport specialists also face 
challenges. State has indicated that it takes the results of this 
investigation very seriously, and officials have said that they are 
taking agencywide actions. Given the potential exploitation of 
vulnerabilities in State's current passport issuance process by 
criminals and terrorists, State should take seriously its efforts to 
maintain the integrity of the passport issuance process to protect U.S. 
citizens and interests at home and abroad. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer 
any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have at 
this time. 

For further information about this statement, please contact Jess Ford 
at (202) 512-4128 or Contact points for our Offices of 
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last 
page of this statement. 

[End of section] 


[1] See GAO, Department of State: Undercover Tests Reveal Significant 
Vulnerabilities in State's Passport Issuance Process, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 13, 

[2] See GAO, Addressing Significant Vulnerabilities in the Department 
of State's Passport Issuance Process, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: April 13, 

[3] As required by State's instructions on the Application for a U.S. 
Passport, form DS-11, applicants must provide proof of U.S. citizenship 
and proof of identity, along with two recent color photographs and 
funds to cover the passport application fees. 

[4] Through a process called adjudication, passport examiners determine 
whether they should issue each applicant a passport. Adjudication 
requires the examiner to scrutinize identification and citizenship 
documents presented by applicants to verify their identity and U.S. 
citizenship. It also includes the examination of an application to 
detect potential indicators of passport fraud and the comparison of the 
applicant's information against databases that help identify 
individuals who may not qualify for a U.S. passport. 

[5] See GAO, State Department: Improvements Needed to Strengthen U.S. 
Passport Fraud Detection Efforts, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: May 20, 

[6] Passport acceptance facilities are located at certain U.S. post 
offices, courthouses, and other institutions and do not employ State 
Department personnel. The passport acceptance agents at these 
facilities are responsible for, among other things, verifying whether 
an applicant's identification document (such as a driver's license) 
actually matches that applicant. 

[7] See GAO, Border Security: Security of New Passports and Visas 
Enhanced, but More Needs to Be Done to Prevent Their Fraudulent Use, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: 
July 31, 2007). 

[8] According to State, between June 20, 2008, and December 22, 2008, a 
total of 71,982 applicants received passports without supplying their 

[End of section] 

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