Concerned about a growing backlog for passport processing at the U.S. State Department and bad actors smelling opportunity for fraud, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and U.S. Rep. Michael Lawler (R-NY) this week urged action.
In a letter to the department, they cited constituents waiting anywhere from seven to 13 weeks to acquire passports, no matter their purpose for one. This comes at a time of growing international travel for Americans post-COVID, and to make matters worse, the lawmakers raised potential issues posed by brokers.
“Unfortunately, the Department’s failure to process applications in a timely manner has led some desperate applicants to turn to private brokers, who – based on information provided by constituents – are allegedly stockpiling and selling appointments for urgent and emergency travel, often at exorbitant prices,” the lawmakers wrote. “In the best-case scenario, brokers are charging individuals for a service that can be facilitated by the National Passport Information Center. In the worst-case scenario, brokers are reportedly promising appointment bookings that are, in actuality, fake. Thus, robbing individuals of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Either way, bad actors are allegedly preying on Americans in need of government travel documents, a situation we find unacceptable.”
The pair encouraged the State Department to work in coordination with law enforcement entities to investigate suspected bad actors and to determine if they are violating state or federal law with a passport quasi-black market. Fraudulent or other illegal activities, they continued, should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
On this point, they noted that they have observed instances where appointments allegedly held and sold by brokers were being changed. As a result, they asked for details on Consular Affairs’ awareness of the incidents, department investigations of the activities and more details relating to the passport process and prevailing rules. Further, they asked outright if any changes to the law were needed to help address the issue.