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Highlights

In 2007, following the implementation of new document requirements for travelers entering the United States from within the Western Hemisphere, the Department of State (State) received a record number of passport applications. In June 2009 further document requirements are scheduled to go into effect and will likely lead to another surge in passport demand. GAO examined (1) the extent to which State was prepared for the surge in passport demand and how its readiness affected passport operations, (2) State's actions to increase passport production capacity in response to the surge, and (3) State's readiness for near-term surges in demand and its strategy to improve passport operations. GAO interviewed officials from State and the Departments of the Treasury and Homeland Security, conducted site visits, and reviewed data on passport processing times and reports on passport operations.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State 1. In order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of passport operations, the Secretary of State should develop a comprehensive, long-term strategy for passport operations using a business enterprise approach to prioritize and synchronize the department's planned improvements. Specifically, State should fully implement a concept of operations document that describes its desired end state for passport operations and addresses how it intends to transition from the current state to this end state.
Closed - Implemented
In response to GAO's recommendation, in June 2010, State's Bureau of Consular Affairs Passport Services completed a Passport Services Strategic Plan for fiscal year 2010 through 2014. This strategic plan identifies the desired end state for passport operations - to strive to set the worldwide standard for secure passport documents and provide outstanding service to the American public ? as well as several methods which State intends to implement to transition to the desired end state. Such methods mentioned in the strategic plan include (1) strengthening information systems that support passport issuance processes to ensure the appropriate response for all levels of demand, (2) prioritizing and pursuing innovations and expanded services according to their impact on customer needs, and (3) leveraging management processes to promote accountability, effectiveness, and efficiency by strengthening communication channels among field offices, and between the field and headquarters to disseminate best practices, among additional methods.
Department of State 2. In order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of passport operations, the Secretary of State should begin tracking individual passport applications from the time the customer submits an application at an acceptance facility, in order to maintain better visibility over the passport process and provide better customer service to passport applicants.
Closed - Not Implemented
In response to GAO's recommendation, State continues to work closely with the Passport Acceptance Facilities; its Agencies, Centers, and Offices; the United States Postal Service (USPS); and the Citigroup lockbox to track and reconcile every piece of mail designated for Passport Services. For example, State requires all Passport Acceptance Facilities to use traceable mail when mailing passport applications to the lockbox. In addition, State coordinates with the USPS to assist in conducting searches and/or investigations when warranted. Moreover, State strongly encourages applicants who mail in their applications directly to the lockbox or passport agency to use a mail service which provides delivery confirmation when mailing a passport application or any additional documentation to the Department of State. However, while the department encourages customers who mail their passport application to use a mail service which provides delivery confirmation, State does not currently have a system in place that begins tracking individual passport applications from the time the customer submits an application at an acceptance facility. For example, customers must wait roughly five to seven days - and up to 10 days in some instances - after the passport application arrives at a lockbox or passport agency to learn the status of their passport application.

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