July 28, 2023

Senator Ricketts’ Weekly Column: Fixing Our Broken Passport System

July 28, 2023

Providing oversight of the federal government is a critical part of my job as a United States Senator. From pushing back on illegal new mandates to fighting wasteful spending, there is a lot of important work to do. And while the Biden administration is failing on many policy matters, it’s also failing its responsibility to provide basic constituent services like passports in a reasonable time – and Americans are paying the price.

While the State Department’s website states passport processing is currently taking 10-13 weeks for routine applications and 7-9 weeks for expedited processing, many Nebraskans have contacted my office experiencing significantly longer delays. One Nebraskan contacted my office fearful that she would be unable to attend a family wedding. She had also submitted her paperwork months in advance. In her case, my office was able to help and secured her passport just 17 hours before her flight. Nevertheless, days that should have been spent preparing to celebrate a family member were spent worrying about the federal bureaucracy’s failings and incompetence.

Another constituent contacted my office in tears, fearful she would be unable to attend a non-refundable and long-planned family trip. She had done everything right, submitting her paperwork months in advance. Despite multiple attempts by my staff to help, the Biden State Department failed her, forcing her to miss the family trip and costing her hundreds of dollars.

These stressful situations should have never happened. No Nebraskan should have to miss a family trip or cancel their honeymoon or miss a family wedding or funeral because the federal bureaucracy can’t do its job in a timely manner. This is horrible customer service from the Biden administration. We need to get this historic backlog under control and restore competence to this process – and that’s exactly what I’m working on.

Successful leaders set goals and then hold their teammates accountable to meet those goals. As Governor, I did just that, focusing on improving turnaround times for permits, requests, and more by utilizing proven methodologies like Lean Six Sigma. I am proud of the progress we made to streamline and simplify how Nebraskans interacted with state agencies. Because of our efforts, Nebraskans spent less time filling out forms, waiting on hold, and standing in line. As Senator, I am pushing our State Department to do the same at the federal level.

Recently, we had a committee hearing to put pressure on the Biden administration to fix this problem and explore when the backlog would return to normal. Rena Bitter, the State Department official in charge of passports, was asked what her goal was to process passport applications. Unbelievably, she said she had no goal. Instead, she blamed COVID exclusively for the problem. For nearly three years, the Biden administration has allowed this problem to fester. They have no goal and no clue as to how to fix the passport problem. By not having a goal, I guarantee they will fail. This is typical mismanagement by the Biden administration. Since the State Department won’t take proactive steps to tackle this problem, Congress must step in.

Earlier this month, I worked with Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma to introduce The Passport Act to tackle this unacceptable backlog. The bill would establish a 12-week processing time requirement. It would refuse any remote work requests until the goal is met. It would expand in-person appointments at regional passport offices and develop a reserve workforce that can be reassigned to help during periods of high demand. It would require more detailed status updates for applicants and create a chat feature to the customer service call line. Finally, it would require the Biden administration to develop a plan to prevent a similar backlog in the case of future national emergencies.

On July 13, the status updates and chat feature provisions of the Passport Act passed the Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support. This week, they passed the full Senate as a part of the larger National Defense Authorization Act. When signed into law, these provisions will improve transparency and customer service and make it easier to know exactly where in the pipeline your passport is.

Tackling the lack of transparency is a solid first step, but there is more that needs to be done. The Biden administration must get this historic backlog under control and prevent anything like this from ever happening again. I will continue to use every tool I can to see the entire Passport Act passed into law. Meanwhile, my team and I will keep doing everything we can to help Nebraskans get their passports in time for their next family commitment or vacation they saved for.

Along with Senator Fischer and the rest of my colleagues in the Nebraska delegation, my team and I are here to serve you. Contact my team and I anytime by phone at 202-224-4224 or on my website at www.ricketts.senate.gov/contact. I am honored to serve our great state and will continue to work to protect the Good Life from Washington overreach.