Passport Issuance:

Current Situation Results in Thousands of Passports Issued to Registered Sex Offenders

GAO-10-643: Published: Jun 15, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2010.

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Gregory D. Kutz
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A U.S. passport allows the owner to travel freely both in and out of the country. Although passport recipients typically travel internationally for business or leisure, some passport recipients are using their passports to commit nefarious illegal activities outside this country. Specifically, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has documented cases of U.S. passport holders engaging in sex acts with children in foreign countries. Federal statutes authorize the Secretary of State to deny issuance of a passport in certain circumstances, such as for a conviction for international drug trafficking or arrearages in child support. GAO was asked to (1) determine, to the extent possible, the number of passport recipients who are registered sex offenders and (2) develop case study examples of passport recipients who are registered sex offenders. To do so, GAO compared fiscal year 2008 passport data from the Department of State (State) to data in DOJ's National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR). GAO also interviewed State officials. GAO selected 30 sex offenders, primarily based on geography, and performed investigations. In response to a draft of this report, DOJ had no comments. State expressed concerns about the presentation of some findings. State's comments are addressed within the report.

State issued U.S. passports to thousands of registered sex offenders during fiscal year 2008. Currently, State has no statutory authority to deny passports to registered sex offenders, except those convicted of sex tourism. GAO's analysis of data provided by State and DOJ indicates that of over 16 million U.S. passports issued in 2008, about 4,500 were issued to registered sex offenders. This estimate is likely to be understated because of data limitations in the passport and NSOR databases. From analysis of the NSOR, GAO also found that about 50 of these registered sex offenders either lived outside of the United States or the offender's whereabouts were not known. GAO also found that at least 30 of these registered sex offenders were federal employees during fiscal year 2008. GAO judgmentally selected 30 sex offenders for investigation. At the time of the criminal offense, many of these offenders held positions of public trust, such as health care provider, school teacher, religious layman, law enforcement official, National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineer, and owner of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 8 program single-family houses. GAO's investigation also found that State issued passports to individuals who were residing in prison or delinquent in child support or whose whereabouts were unknown according to the NSOR. Finally, GAO's investigation found that one individual has illegally failed to register with the police department as a sex offender for several years.