PASSPORT BACKLOG REDUCTION ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - July 16, 2007)
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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I rise in support of Senate bill 966, the Passport Backlog Reduction Act. All of us have heard from our constituents. Millions of Americans are facing unprecedented delays in the processing of their passport applications. As weeks become months, these painful holdups have wrecked long-planned travel, job opportunities, and family obligations for thousands of our fellow citizens. This situation is incomprehensible and inexcusable. Officials should have anticipated and planned for this increased demand when the new travel security requirements were legislated 3 years ago.
Furthermore, the State Department has been collecting additional surcharges under authority granted by Congress 1 1/2 years ago for the express purpose of meeting the increased demand for passports. But as we learned at last week's hearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee, officials did not adequately prepare for the increased demand that everyone knew would be coming, and there is no good explanation why.
At the same time that the planning was botched by their superiors, I want to praise the dedicated and hardworking individuals who have been working on an extended and overtime schedule to address this backlog. Madam Speaker, I am particularly impressed by the men and women of the Miami passport processing center who have maintained their professionalism and their courtesy even in this high pressure situation.
The bill before us will help in a limited but an important way to restore the timely passport processing that the American public has every right to expect. By easing certain reemployment restrictions, it will enable retired Foreign Service officers to come back to work on passport and visa processing on more than a part-time basis. It will also allow them to assist with passport fraud investigations which have not kept pace with the dramatic increase in passport applications.
Of course, this bill is only a temporary measure that will ease but will not fix the larger problem. Senate bill 966 is no substitute for the budgeting, hiring, and training that must be part of the Department's annual and long-range planning. We appreciate the solemn assurances at last week's hearing that the Departments of State and Homeland Security are now treating these problems with the seriousness that they deserve. I have no doubt that the Committee on Foreign Affairs under Chairman Lantos' leadership will follow up to ensure that the current problems are remedied promptly and avoided in the future.
The bill before us, Madam Speaker, is a small part of that remedy and deserves our unanimous support.
Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
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